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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Promises Promises, Random Accomplice theatre review

Published in The Guardian

Promises Promises

Tron, Glasgow
4 out of 5

You could say this play was purpose-built for readers of this newspaper's ­Education and Society sections. ­Margaret Ann Brodie has just arrived as a supply teacher in a London school when she discovers a community group is about to perform an exorcism on one of her pupils, a six-year-old Somali girl who is an elective mute. The scene is set for a debate about classroom control and multiculturalism: should tolerance of beliefs extend to summoning devils before playtime?

Yet it would be wrong to call ­Douglas Maxwell's gripping monologue an issue play, though it shares much of the ­turbulent uncertainty of ­Blackbird or Oleanna. Promises Promises is based on a true story, but the drama is less about the rights and wrongs of ­witchcraft or the challenges of a ­multilingual ­classroom, and more about the ­character of Brodie herself.

When the head teacher, a fellow Scot, incorrectly refers to The Pride (sic) of Miss Jean Brodie, he ­inadvertently gets this Miss Brodie right. With 40 years' teaching behind her, she is past her prime – even if actor Joanna Tope invests her with a sassy ­sexuality – but it is pride that brings about her ­downfall. Many of her instincts are good, but her snooty "it wasn't like this in my day" attitudes turn a bad ­situation into a catastrophe.

Having started with Muriel Spark, the play passes through the ­doppelganger worlds of Robert Louis Stevenson and James Hogg, as ­Brodie recognises aspects of her own ­childhood in that of the little girl. With that, Maxwell's easy comedy hits dark psychological waters, like ­something by Edgar Allan Poe, as it slowly exposes the damaged woman behind the brusquely efficient teacher. Tope rides the transitions superbly in Johnny McKnight's ­haunting ­production for Random Accomplice, leaving us ­unsettled by a class act.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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