Not only did she push Spark towards a literary career but she also inspired her most celebrated character, Jean Brodie, the charismatic schoolmistress who declares: “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”
Jean Brodie is an exotic figure in dour 1930s Edinburgh, as glamorous and menacing as Mussolini, whom she reveres.
She manipulates her pupils’ destinies to disastrous effect, not least when she blithely sends Joyce Emily (the moving Nicola Coughlan) to her death in the Spanish Civil War.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie was first dramatised by Jay Presson Allen in 1966, later the basis of the celebrated film starring Maggie Smith.
For the centenary of Spark’s birth David Harrower has written a fine new adaptation, making powerful use of the framing device in which Brodie’s most gifted protege, Sandy (excellent Rona Morison), looks back on her schooldays before becoming a nun.
Apart from the sexual precocity of the 11-year-old girls (even more marked when voiced by 20-year-old actresses), there is not a single false note in Polly Findlay’s production.
Sylvestra Le Touzel and Angus Wright are splendid as Miss Brodie’s headmistress and spurned lover.
Lia Williams triumphs in the title role, both softer and more sinister than Smith, exerting an almost erotic hold on her pupils.
Miss Brodie disapproves of taking taxis. I wish that I’d followed her advice last week when, after sitting in a traffic jam for two hours, I missed a play’s first half for the first time in my critical career.
So, I can offer only a general comment on Finishing The Picture, Arthur Miller’s final play and final comment on his ill-fated marriage to Marilyn Monroe.
In a Nevada hotel suite, an increasingly desperate director and crew entreat the star Kitty (a thinly disguised Monroe) to appear on set before the film is cancelled.
Like many old men’s plays (think of Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken), it is spare and static.
But it is admirably animated by director Phil Willmott with a skilful use of music and sound effects to represent the unseen Kitty.
Rachel Handshaw and Oliver Le Sueur stand out in an excellent cast. There can be few more enjoyable evenings in the theatre than Opera North’s production of Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter’s witty and melodic take on The Taming Of The Shrew.
The ingenious coupling of Shakespeare and Porter is matched here by an equally happy marriage of talents from the musical and operatic stages, with a particularly dazzling contribution from the Royal Ballet’s Will Tuckett.
Quirijn de Lang and Stephanie Corley sing and spar magnificently. Zoe Rainey offers a charmingly kittenish blonde and Alan Burkitt dances up a storm.
And Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin bring down the house with the ever-pertinent reminder to “Brush up your Shakespeare”.
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE 4/5
Donmar, London WC2
(Tickets: 020 3282 3808/ donmarwarehouse.com; £10-£40)
FINISHING THE PICTURE 4/5
Finborough, London SW10
(Tickets: 01223 357851/ finboroughtheatre.co.uk; £20)
KISS ME KATE 4/5
Coliseum, London WC2
(Tickets: 020 7845 9300/ londoncoliseum.org; £10-£105)