MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION: G B Shaw
Touring: Birmingham Rep till 14 November, touring till 12 December
Details: www.theatreroyal.org.uk/theatre-royal-bath-productions/tour-schedules/One Interval.
Review: 9 November 2009, Birmingham Rep
A remarkable production that shows us what we’ve been missing.
Michael Rudman’s production from the Theatre Royal Bath sweeps away any notion that this early Shaw play is clunky, oddly constructed, overly melodramatic or that Shaw is a wind-bag and that he can’t write dialogue. It’s a marvellously shaped production that, played in a sensitive and relaxed way, firmly places the play in the naturalistic stable.
MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION centres around the relationship between Mrs Warren (a highly successful brothel keeper) and her daughter, Vivie (a high-flying mathematician). Mrs Warren’s money has paid for her daughter’s education and up-bringing, but they rarely meet.
Shaw’s play construction may appear odd for it starts as a society comedy but changes its nature once it has hooked us into its world. Shaw, in surrounding Vivie with men who would like to marry her (for different reasons) and by giving Mrs Warren a high-church ex-flame, skilfully debates the position of women in society, their fulfilled, unfulfilled and perhaps unfulfillable ambitions. The play was banned when first written, in an early American production the actor playing Mrs Warren was imprisoned; Shaw not only places centre stage Mrs Warren’s profession, but he also doesn’t criticise her either.
Her arguments for her trade are persuasively put by both Mrs Warren and other characters; Vivie (about to become a highly successful businesswoman) is persuaded, then non-plussed, then revolted by revelations. In a skilful final act, Vivie handles the arguments and the play concludes with many questions left open for us to debate among ourselves.
Lucy Briggs-Owen convinces us both of Vivie’s intelligence and naivete; physically she encompasses Vivie’s background and life-style. Felicity Kendal plays Mrs Warren with great confidence, subtlety and a thrilling vocal range. This Mrs Warren defies us to judge her, we simply cannot dislike nor dismiss her. Together these two women tower over the production and their long duologues are moments to treasure – and to die to see again.
This is a strong acting company, and all handle the text with great skill, new minting each line. The play comes to us fresh with a strong sense of reality and immediacy. Shaw would certainly have been delighted.
Mrs Warren: Felicity Kendal.
Vivie: Lucy Briggs-Owen.
Crofts: David Yelland.
Reverend Samuel Gardner: Eric Carte.
Praed: Mark Tandy.
Friank: Max Bennett.
Director: Michael Rudman.
Designer: Paul Farnsworth.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Associate director: Joao de Sousa.
Music consultant: Eric Carte.