Review - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie starring Lia Williams at the Donmar Warehouse
Never mind The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: can we pause first to consider the prime of Miss Lia Williams?
This utterly startling actor is well on her way to becoming a stage great. Those of us who've followed her from the start of her career began admiring her in such plays as Ayckbourn's The Revenger's Comedies that first brought her to West End attention in 1991, and the original productions of David Mamet's Oleanna (Royal Court in 1993) and David Hare's Skylight (at the National in 1995); but the last five years have brought a new stage blossoming that has seen her variously thrill and chill in plays like Pinter's Old Times (opposite Kristin Scott Thomas, in which they swapped roles at the Pinter from night to night), Oresteia (Almeida and Trafalgar Studios), and most recently Mary Stuart (opposite Juliet Stevenson, again swapping roles on the spin of a coin each night at the Almeida then the Duke of York's).
Now, she's not so much swapping roles as inhabiting a vast range of them simultaneously, as the mercurial, contrary, hilarious and infuriating Jean Brodie in a new stage version of Muriel Spark's 1961 novel.
She is a teacher at a private girls' school in post-World War II Edinburgh. And as she presides over her most devoted students - and they on her - the stage is set for a tangle of complicated loyalties and ultimately, betrayals.
Williams is simply thrilling and transfixing to watch: it's not difficult to see why they fall under her spell, or fellow teacher Gordon Lowther (Angus Wright), whose devotion she rejects.
Polly Findlay's pitch-perfect production unfolds on Lizzie Clachan's clinical set - as cold and uptight as the school these free spirits seem to be imprisoned in and yearn to break free of. Williams is brilliantly complemented by Rona Morison as her most devoted confidante Sandy, with terrific work too from Sylvestra Le Touzel as the formidable school headmistress.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is at the Donmar Warehosue until 28th July.
Photo credit Manuel Harlan