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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Review

I have missed just one or two productions in 25 years of theatre-going in Holt Village Hall, so I cannot be certain that “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” was the best – but it may well have been, beating even the famous Flea Circus !

With a cast of  21 (including the very late casting of the Director herself, standing in at the last moment in a crucial role) and the regular army of over 20 behind the scenes there is no way that I can mention everyone – although this time I wish I could.

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“Get to the point !” I hear you say. OK then, this was an extremely polished production which brought Muriel Sparks’ powerful story very directly to the audience, with all the humour, atmosphere and poignancy that it deserves.

To deliver drama as well as this, first of all you have to get rid of a myriad of distractions ranging from actors who don’t know their lines, through sets and costumes that don’t reflect and support the text, to accents that jar and get in the way of the words.

But that is just the starting point on which to build the interpretation, on stage, of the plot and the characters themselves. What a joy, then, that the obviously confident hand of the Director – Kate Palmer – and the talented cast were combined (in the nick of time no doubt – it wouldn’t be amateur dramatics otherwise) to accomplish both of these difficult things so well.

Miss Jean herself is the central character in every way, but her persona and the entire story are built on her relationships. So it is vital, if her role is to convince, that the characters of those around her are clearly portrayed. For once, the day after seeing the play, I am having no difficulty in positioning in my mind the philandering Mr Lloyd (Mike Harley), the stay-at-home Mr Lowther (John Fletcher) and the Headmistress (Alison Brady) struggling with a free-spirited teacher in an ultra-conservative school.

 

They all delivered confident performances, as did the four girls in the “Brodie Set” – I’m sure (well, fairly sure) they won’t mind me saying that a measure of their success is that I really didn’t notice the shedding of some 40 years in age !

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The nature of the girls’ individual characters really matters in explaining the eventual fate of Miss Brodie and, right from their first scene, they were working hard to bring this to the audience. Sandy’s complex and wide-ranging character is difficult to portray, developing from the class know-all and teacher’s pet to a deeply passionate teenager. I can see how Kate Palmer understood this role so well, but to learn it and to deliver it on stage with only a couple of weeks’ notice astonished me.

 

Monica (Alison Pryke), Jenny (Natalie Hector) and Mary MacGregor (Merwyn Manson) made up, with Sandy, a convincing group of schoolgirls growing up together and I would like to pick out Merwyn’s performance as being quite special – delivering tongue-tied and uncertain characters is much harder than it seems and she did it so well that her unlikely running off to death in the Spanish Civil War did not jar.

So that just leaves Miss Jean Brodie herself. For the whole play to work she simply must be a commanding presence to all around her, even at the end when her flawed judgements come back to haunt her leaving her a sad and isolated figure. Jill Siddall oozed confidence, style and passion in a triumphant performance.

 

She bossed the stage from her first entrance to the very end and carried her long and demanding role with apparent ease. It was a great achievement by any measure, and for someone’s first treading of the boards was quite amazing.

MGM