Playbill On-Line is hosting a theatre tour to London's West End the week of June 28-July 5. Log in daily to read reviews of the shows, as seen by dedicated theatregoers like yourself.
In the aftermath of Britain's devastating soccer defeat by Argentina (headline: "Don't Cry for Us, Argentina") in the World Cup semifinals, there was just nothing left to do but -- see shows!
We started the day with a fascinating backstage tour of the venerable Theatre Royal Drury Lane where Charles II once romanced his mistress Nell Gwynne. Now home to Miss Saigon the 300-year-old theatre site is a maze of stone passageways leading to the massive hydraulic devices that raise and lower the stage and helicopter to create that show's spectacular effects.
In the evening we headed across the Thames to the massive Royal National Theatre complex to see Fiona Shaw's new The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Along the way we passed the crowd of press, Bobbies and celebrities gathered to greet limousines arriving at the opening night of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind, which we saw on the final preview. "Seen it,"said one of the guests with a wave of the hand, to appreciative laughter.
Jay Presson Allen adapted Jean Brodie from Muriel Spark's novel about a charismatic and ultimately manipulative teacher at a private girl's school who eventually brings about the death of one of her students, and is betrayed by another. Allen revised the script for this revival, eliminating the frame of a reporter interviewing one of the students years after the fact, and adding one major new scene, in which Miss Brodie's betrayer imagines a confrontation with her fallen idol. Here's how the Playbill On-Line critics-for-the-week reviewed the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Kathleen Reinhardt of Texas:
I thought it was wonderful! I never saw the film; I thought she [Fiona Shaw] was wonderful and again [as in Whistle Down the Wind] the kids were great. It was well-written, intelligent.
Caroline Bonacci of New York:
The English take theatre very seriously. I really enjoyed it. It was really wonderful. The first part of the show was kind of dragged out, but then it really opened up. Why did Sandy become a nun? I think its because she went to an extreme.
Ronald Woan of Massachusetts:
It was very sharp, very clever, very impressively staged [by Phyllida Lloyd]. I thought the minimalistic sets worked great -- except at one point where they were rolling out some of the paintings [part of the set] and hit the wall.
Ida Foster of New Jersey:
In the beginning she was very beguiling. You thought, 'What a wonderful teacher.' But then you saw she was using the girls to [glorify] herself. It was an issue of control: she controlled not only the men in her life, but the girls, too.
Nunzio Zappola of New York:
The whole play was based on power for women. It became a question of who was more powerful.
Albert T. Kim of New York:
The revisions have made it much more powerful. It's interesting how a little more ambiguity made it much more effective dramatically. Bringing in all the religious allusions and symbols also was effective.
It's very disturbing when you hear her [Miss Brodie] approving of those fascistic ideas. The fact that the play makes you think of those things is very strong.
I thought the actress who played Miss Mackay [Annette Badland as Miss Brodie's headmistress and nemesis] was underplaying it. Her performance was a little weak, perhaps because she was saying 'I'll let Fiona Shaw have it all.' But in the confrontation scene she needed to bring up her performance to Miss Brodie's.
I wasn't bothered by the sexualization [of the young girls]. The ambiguity [of some of the pubescent girls being played by young actresses, and others by older actresses] was interesting, too. That particular lack of clarity made it more interesting. Sandy sees what Miss Brodie's spinster life is like. She's searching for something, too. When she takes the vows, I think she's devoting her life to a purpose. In a way, she's like a Miss Jean Brodie. The actress playing Sandy was so amazing, acting-wise. It goes back to what Nunzio was saying: the whole issue of power. Ultimately Miss Brody was scary: she was really about order and control. Sandy becomes a Miss Brodie, but in a different way.
John Saxton of Delaware:
The woman playing Brodie was very good and the young girl Susannah Wise as Sandy] was great. But the play went right over my head, I'm afraid.
Stanley Schentes of Texas:
This theatre had the hardest seats of any we've been in so far.
Henriette Richman of Florida:
I found the Scotch accents a little bit difficult to understand. One things I've noticed throughout this trip: British audiences are much more courteous than American audiences. In America, as soon as curtain calls start, boom, half the audience is headed up the aisle. Here, not a single person left [until the curtain came down].
Helen Cyker of Florida:
But the English make very enthusiastic audiences.
After the performance we found ourselves suddenly ravished by the sight of nighttime London from the Thames-side promenade that runs alongside the Royal National Theatre complex on the Southwark side of the Thames. Next: Kevin Spacey in Old Vic's revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh