THE PRIME 0F MISS JEAN BRODIE
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.’ The ringing assertions of Muriel Spark’s indomitable schoolmarm are almost as entrenched now in national litany as
the Floweer Scotland, and possibly as well-loved.
The humorous, sharp-edged story of
a teacher with exalted, if warped, vision, who dedicates her life to her pupils (‘I am in my prime and my girls are benefitting from it’), Spark's novel traces the far-reaching effect such unorthodox and persuasive influence can have on its progegees. Seen over seven years through the maturing eyes of her elite, different lights are shed on this egocentric fanatic, yet from first term to last she remains locked in enigma.
Perhaps better known through its various dramatisations than in the original, The Prime DI Miss Jean Brodie is still open to new interpetation, and Jay Presson Allen’s imaginative adaptation, coupled with the Brunton Theatre Company's production, presents it with compelling and fresh dramatic force. Effectiver kaleidoscoping events and characters, the tale is told through reminiscences by Sandy, Miss Brodie’s Judas and now a nun, with schoolroom set and cloister cleverly superimposed, and Sandy’s Miincholike face haunting the edges of each memory.
Sharply directed by Charles Nowosielski, this is an assured performance. Miss Brodie is played with convincing intensity and a Mona Lisa smile by Beth Robens, supported by a strong and disciplined cast, and skilfully holding the focus with Hilary MacLean's watchful and malevolant Sandy, in a subtle and increasingly sinisterduet. (Rosemary Goring)
Wilkie House, Edinburgh
Anne Downie’s ‘Jelly Babies‘ started out as a TV play twelve years ago, yet its first staging, at the hands of Theatre Co-Dperative, makes lt strikingly topical. While argument rages about David Alton’s Abortion Bill, Downie’s
play focuses on a group of women in a gynaecological ward, one in for a late termination, the others for various problems related to pregnancy and infertility.
The basic inconsiderateness underlying this situation forms the premise for Downie’s play—through the dreadfully conflicting situations of the characters she begins to explore the issue of abortion. One of the characters being tested for infertility had an abortion earlier in life, another had one because she simply couldn’t cope with anotherchild. Downie interweaves scenes where the conversation between the women illuminates something of their largely preconditioned lives, of the strain and boredom that looking after a family can entail, with sudden, unexpected eruptions into surreal and quite horrific ad-man voiceovers advocating abortion as an easy option. ‘Remember ladies, no foetus can beat us.’ purrs the voice.
Downie's intention, I think, is to show the complexity of the social problems surrounding abortion, not to come out against it, but to suggest that it can be - or could be — advocated as an option without clear explanation as to possible follow-up effects, soft-sold as a package to women along with a great deal else.
The voiceover is an effective and ghastly dramatic device tying this together with the nastiness of the reality. But the issue is so delicate and so explosive that the play just doesn’t go far enough in discussing the arguments fairly-this sort of emotive effect has to be backed up with detailed and cogent argument about all the pros and cons, medically and ethically, of abortion at different stages, otherwise it begins to look like a bad-taste shock effect. The play needs far more than the juxtaposition of the characters’ situations to discuss the issue deeply.
Where it finds its strong point is in the creation of the characters themselves. Downie has a sharp ear for dialogue and the play creates a warm portrayal of the supportiveness of women in grim circumstances. Relationships between the women are gently developed, and the direction by Allan Sharpe and Mark J Smith (which copes neatly and unobtrusively with the fact that this is
obviously a TV play) brings this out. Maureen Carr gives a wonderful performance as Betty, the rough diamond with a heart of gold and a flint-sharp sense of humour, carrying the whole production before her, and she is nicely balanced by the gentle Joan, sensitively played by Lorna Irvine the night I was there, who had steooed in at a moment’s notice because of cast illness. (Sarah Hemming)
KILLING ME SOFTLY
Traverse, Edinburgh. Now at Glasgow University Drama Studio.
AIDS may have been elbowed out of the media spotlight recently, butJohn Binnie’s ‘Killing Me Softly’ puts it firmly centre-stage. During the course of the play Tim discovers he is HIV positive — a discovery that produces a stream of varying reactions in both himselfand his family.
It is these reactions, however, that are the focus of the play— Binnie does not explore the moral or statistical issues surrounding the virus, but the reactions of his characters within the context of the personalities and preconceptions he has built up in them. The moving heart of the play is the developing friendship between Tim, a homosexual, and Lil, his heterosexual girl-friend, and how it is affected by Tim’s discovery. As the two progress, sometimes painfully, towards understanding one another, the play illuminates the stereotypical assumptions they have that sometimes block communication. ‘Yoursexuality is part of your personality’ says one character at one point, and Binnie dwells on what this means if you either don’t understand ortry to hide your sexuality and explores how people don masks and sweep issues under the carpet in small tight-knit groups.
He is fascinated by role play, and plays on the idea in theatrical terms— less interestingly in this play, in fact, than in ‘Mum, Dad, There’s Something l’ve Got to Tell You . . with which it appeared in a double-bill at the Traverse Theatre. in ‘Mum, Dad . .' Binnie moves round and round the situation of a young boy trying to tell his family he is gay, constantly wittin subverting theatrical illusion to illustrate how we Iictionalise our own lives and characters and how we play into roles.
Both plays are short and quite slight, and one hopes that in his next play Binnie will expand and develop his themes more fully. ‘Killing Me Softly’ is sometimes rather mawkish and
drops occasionally into cliched situations. But ultimately it is moving; Binnie is good at creating atmosphere and has a sharp eye for observing family situations and Clyde Unity Theatre give tight, inventive performances. (Sarah Hemmlng)
Kings’ Theatre, Edinburgh
Call me a sentimental get, but this play has my contact lenses halfway down my cheeks every time. Willy Russell’s musical uses fate and superstition almost like a Greek tragedy to articulate themes of class division: his
pet notion of escape from a cramped
social environment is here explored through the separation of the Johnston twins at birth, one to grow up with his natural working-class family, the other to enjoy adoption into the privileged middle-class. The doom-laden story unwinds through short witty scenes and evocative songs until a climax in which the brothers’ conflict represents the bitterness of class struggles.
This production is slick and highly professional: the ingenious scene changes and garish back-drop are rendered practically superfluous by strong performances. Robert Locke’s bourgeois brother is delightfully gauche and Warwick Evans makes a moody and rich-voiced Narrator. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, but it is Ron O’Neill who wins the audience's heart, metamorphosing from snotty-nosed kid to hard-nosed killer—though he is indisputably helped along by a remarkably versatile pullover and the best part in the play.
I’m not sure about Kiki Dee. Her Mrs Johnston is beautifully song, of course, and undeniably sincere, but attimes-
notably the denoument— she seems to lack emotional depth. Indeed, the rigours of a long tour seem to have blunted the emotional edge of several scenes. Nonetheless, this is a moving and enjoyable evening‘s entertainment. (Andrew Burnet)
POLITICS IN THE PARK/JOE
Traverse, Edinburgh. Run finished. Like short stories, short two-person plays can use their narrow focus to illuminating effect. In this double bill of 45 minute two-handers writers lain Heggie and Anne Marie di Mambro play skilfully and wittin on the peculiar discipline and intimacy of the form, both painting a quick and telling picture of the relationship between the two people on stage and both demonstrating how much of our accumulated past is present in any brief encounter.
Reggie’s ‘Potitics in the Park’ takes its own form with a pinch of salt from the start. Two game old ladies— sisters —sit on a bench in the park and hold forth. It’s a situation whose inherent comedy has never yet lost its appeal and Reggie plays on the cheekiness of serving it up again, and sprinkles the dialogue with all the comic tricks of the trade-hesitation, repetition, deviation —with delight. The play moves forward like a boxing match — a series of rounds in which the two sisters tease, torment and restore one another, playing on their chalk and cheese characters (the one slightly prudish, the other a bon-viveur) and returning to their comers with a different one in the lead each time.
The production's success relies on timing - and although they wind down a little towards the end, Sheila Latlmer and Sheila Donald play with mutually sympathetic timing and precise observation, enjoying the comic cliches of the characters, while affectionately lending dignity to the two instantly recognisable old ladies.
Anne Marie di Mambro also approaches her chosen form tongue firmly In cheek. in ‘Joe' there are two
20 The List 30 Oct — 12 Nov