by Douglas Maxwell.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3ND To 13 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS 020 7478 0100.
Review: Carole Woddis 3 March.
Trouble in the classroom intriguingly depicted.
Scottish theatre continues to lead the way when it comes to challenging assumptions. Douglas Maxwell’s Promises Promises is just the latest example. One of their foremost playwrights, who has worked with Paines Plough, GridIron, Borderline and here with newish company, Random Accomplice, Maxwell takes us to the heart of what it is to be a teacher today, and the ties that bind.
Teachers turn up a good deal in Maxwell’s work. This time his protagonist is a Miss Brodie – no relation to the Muriel Spark counterpart, though it does allow for a little verbal joke and could be seen as a projection of what Miss Jean Brodie might have been like had she been catapulted into the 21st century.
Maggie Brodie has taught for 35 years in London but has lost none of her Scottish swing and accent. She has been hauled in to cover for a week and brings with her experience and, explosively, her past. It is this which is re-ignited as she grapples with a young Somali eight year old who refuses to speak, is said to be possessed by devils and whom Maggie is going to be forced to witness being cleansed, in class, by an exorcist from her own community.
Told in monologue and in a remarkable tour de force by Joanna Tope, Promises introduces us to Maggie first as confident and convinced of the rightness of her actions, then gradually transforming into a raging if protective liberal battling against cultural difference, the forces of darkness and religious ignorance, then, seeing reflections of her young self, finally becoming a sexual seductress.
Sex, race, religion and childhood; it’s a racy combination. Maxwell and Random Accomplice however keep it all tightly under control, add a certain lyrical poignancy and ask a number of questions through Maggie’s behaviour. What is racism in the classroom? How far do we confuse the present with imprints from the past and perhaps most importantly, is Maggie a modern variation on the theme of woman as whore and castrator? Or, does she instead represent a clever critique on that old stereotype? Very, very unsettling.
Maggie Brodie: Joanna Tope.
Director: Johnny McKnight.
Designer/Costume: Lisa Sangster.
Lighting: Dave Shea.
Music: Karen MacIver.
Video: Tim Reid.