One of the most anticipated productions of the 2009 repertory season at Pitlochry Festival Theatre is surely Jay Presson Allen’s adaptation of the Muriel Spark novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The story begins at a convent in the mid-1940s where Sandy Stranger, a former pupil of Jean Brodie has become a nun. We are then transported back to 1930s Edinburgh to the Marcia Blaine School where the story of Miss Jean Brodie and her girls is played out. We witness the prime and decline of Miss Brodie and the themes of devotion, honour and loyalty soon turn to betrayal, heartache and loss, climaxing in a poignant and heart-breaking final scene between Miss Brodie and Sandy.
With the iconic role of Jean Brodie being so famously associated with Dame Maggie Smith, actress Helen Logan has her work cut out even before the curtain rises. With great flair, poise and consistency, Logan excels in the title role. She glides around the stage, exuding elegance in an enigmatic style, delivering line after line with polish and charm. She is superbly supported by every member of the cast, but in particular, fine performances by Irene Allan (Sandy), Shirley Darroch (Monica), Dougal Lee (Teddy Lloyd) and the wonderful Isabelle Joss as Mary MacGregor. Elizabeth Graham, as headmistress Miss Mackay, almost underplays her role, but this contrasts beautifully with the theatricality of Brodie and the spirited characterisation of the girls.
The production is directed by Richard Baron, who pulls most strings to precision. A few moments of questionable artistic vision caused slight distraction, but overall Baron is to be commended for a thoroughly enjoyable, amusing, poignant and professionally executed production. Ken Harrison’s set and costume designs are simple and effective, particularly his tailored tweeds, exuberant colours and sumptuous fabrics for his leading lady. Atmospheric lighting by Wayne Dowdeswell completes the perfect picture.
Another artistic success for Pitlochry and in the words of Miss Jean Brodie herself, this production is ‘the creme da la creme’.