THEATRE: It must be a coincidence. Just two weeks before I attended the Kampala Amateur Dramatic Societyâ€™s rendition of Muriel Sparkâ€™s 1961 novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the National Theatre, last Saturday, I had gone to Cineplex to watch Mona Lisa Smile, starring Julia Roberts
THEATRE: It must be a coincidence. Just two weeks before I attended the Kampala Amateur Dramatic Societyâ€™s rendition of Muriel Sparkâ€™s 1961 novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the National Theatre, last Saturday, I had gone to Cineplex to watch Mona Lisa Smile, starring Julia Roberts.
Both the play and the movie have similar story lines - a female teacher with revolutionary views at a conservative girlsâ€™ school that educates them for their societal â€˜rolesâ€™, to look after their families.
It is a premise the female teacher rejects, and tries to make â€˜her girlsâ€™ more than that.
It is probably unfair to compare the two, but for a Ugandan in Kampala, a point of reference is needed to appreciate Britain in the 1930s and all the passions of that period, or the lack of it in Wellesley College in 1950s America.
It is not fair because Roberts is a world acclaimed actress, an Oscar winner that regularly commands more than US $20m per picture. Her face and smile has sold millions of dollars of merchandise and made countless millions more in endorsements.
On the other hand, Katie Richardson, who played Miss Jean Brodie, is strictly a volunteer and an amateur actor who would probably freeze if Roberts walked into the room. For her efforts, and if she was lucky, all director Mark Wilson could do was probably buy her a drink after the performance.
But if you asked me, the award would have gone to Richardson. There is an old stereotype about prim and proper English actresses, how they could act any role, even that of a prostitute, as long as the audience knew that they were real ladies in real life.
Miss Roberts, falls in that category. Sheâ€™ll act any role, as long as we know it is Julia Roberts, the Oscar award winner, behind the character.
Last weekend, Katie Richardson was all passion as she brought to life the efforts of the idealist Jean Brodie to make something of her students.
Brodie is a passionate woman, with passion for her job, her vision, her love life, and a definite passion for the prime of her life.
She had been having an affair with the married art master, (Teddy Lloyd), but ended it and now is spending nights with the unmarried music teacher, Gordon Lowther (Arfaan Ahmed).
Jean Brodie is determined to her students as passionate as she was about life. She might be mistaken, as in her admiration of Spainâ€™s fascist ruler, Gen. Franco, and Hitler of Germany, but we still admired the passion behind it.
The Brodie girls, Sandy (Sara Standring), Jenny (Joanna Karlsen), Monica (Dorcas Barbour) and Mary Macgregor (Laura Stewart) as they came to be known, took up her passions wholeheartedly. And therein lay the seeds of her demise.
Miss Mackay (Sarah Young), the headmistress, is not happy about Brodieâ€™s ways, although she lacks the strength to force her out of the school. Only the girls, to whom she has dedicated her life, and for whom they can do anything, can betray her.
Sarah Standring was outstanding as Sandy, a sort of alter ego to Brodie, who wanted so much to be like her, and when she could not, betrayed her, and lived the rest of her life regretting it. So much that she entered a convent and eventually wrote a book about it.
The rest of the cast were also outstanding, although we later learnt that the â€˜schoolgirlsâ€™ were actually women!
And I found out that after months of watching movies, it was refreshing to go to the theatre and listen to some dialogue that made sense, not just to fill the gaps before the special effects took over.
A note in passing: whoever built the National Theatre probably never imagined there would be two graduation parties outside going on at the same time as a production on stage. Alas, the very loud music and laughter was a real nuisance, how on earth did the theatre management allow that to happen?
Brodie: A Teacher With A Mission