The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie/ The Girls of Slender Means, Assembly venues, Edinburgh
Thursday 27 August 2009
Muriel Spark wrote of her most enduring creation, Miss Jean Brodie, that she was "an Edinburgh festival all on her own": vibrant, bursting with culture and a touch overwhelming, you might infer. This year, it is Spark herself who is a festival all on her own with two large-scale theatre adaptations of her novels and a book festival event dedicated to a new doorstop biography of the Edinburgh author by Martin Stannard.
In many ways, Spark's novels – tightly written, with their girlish ensembles and fragrant sense of place (Jean Brodie set in the rigorous corridors of the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, Girls in the May of Teck women's hostel in London) are made for the stage.
Laurie Sansom's elegant production of Jean Brodie, which started life at Northampton's Royal & Derngate last year, feels entirely at home in the echoey, dusty, creaky Assembly Halls. The place reeks of old-school spirit even before the gauze is lifted on Neil Irish's lovely set and rows of immaculately trained singing schoolgirls in plaits and pleats.
The rise and fall of Miss Brodie, a progressive teacher trapped in a conservative school, seeking to mould her chosen few with her "stimulating" dress sense and unconventional teaching methods has been adapted faithfully by Jay Presson Allan. And if she doesn't quite snuff out the memory of Maggie Smith's querulous addresses to her "gels" on film, Anna Francolini – willowy yet with ramrod back, generously inspirational yet selfishly manipulative – brings fresh pertness and wittiness to the lead. Her run-ins with the frowsy, brogue-wearing Miss Mackay (Lesley Nicol) are a joy to watch and her favoured pupils are played with great maturity by a quartet of talented young actresses. Vastly enjoyable.
Girls is a more impressionistic affair from the Stellar Quines company, weaving a dream-like vision of Forties London through a group of resourceful young ladies, all keeping their peckers up, digging for victory, reciting edifying verses and sharing a single, gorgeous Schiaparelli silk dress between them for nights on the razzle. Set in 1945, between VE and VJ Day, Muriel Romanes' production makes clever – if initially confusing – use of moving screens and bellowing telephones to evoke the dolls'-house nature of the set-up where owlish, jolly-hockey-sticks gals, lissom models and good-time girls live on top of one another. Somewhere along the way, though, Spark's story gets a little lost. In producing a show of some style, Stellar Quines lose some of the novel's fine substance.
To 31 August (0131-623 3030)
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 Fifa corruption arrests: Nike reported to be 'multinational sportswear company' at centre of bribery claims over Brazil shirt deal
- 3 Facebook Messenger sends 'creepily' precise location data, as revealed by Marauders Map Chrome extension
- 4 Bahar Mustafa: Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer to keep her job after vote of no confidence petition fails
- 5 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
San Andreas 3D, film review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's disaster movie has clear fault lines
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote