MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION
by George Bernard Shaw.
Tour to 1 August 2015.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 July at Oxford Playhouse.
Pleasant revival of ‘Play Unpleasant’.
George Bernard Shaw, always ready with an opinion, categorised his early plays as ‘Pleasant’, ‘Unpleasant’ and for ‘Puritans.
So ‘Unpleasant’ was Mrs Warren’s Profession that the dramatic censor thought audiences unready to see a play which had to wait from being written in late Victorian days to public premiere in the heyday of the Charleston.
A play about the sex industry, it contains, typically with Shaw, nothing closer to intimacy than a mild eruption of hazy romance and a cynical marriage proposal. The romance is cast aside and the New Woman Vivie determines to pay her own way, having starred in Mathematics at Cambridge (gaining a ‘certificate’ rather than a degree, as a woman) rather than escape grinding poverty by playing into men’s hands as did her mother.
Economic power is at the root of choice and Mrs Warren herself was remarkable in rising to the boss class, moving from sex-work to a position in the trade which even Shaw dare not say outloud.
In the programme for the National Theatre’s 1970 revival at London’s Old Vic, Germaine Greer criticised Shaw’s sole emphasis on economics as the cause of prostitution. Still, his arguments remain forceful, unwrapped progressively as more characters learn more about the way things are. As in another ‘Play Unpleasant’, Shaw’s dramatic debut Widowers’ Houses, the idealistic young find themselves implicated in the moral squalor that has paid for their agreeable lifestyle.
Both plays start pleasantly enough. Everything in the garden’s lovely at the cottage where the Warrens, mother and daughter, meet for the first time – Dawn Allsopp’s colourfully flowering setting makes the point.
Though it can be too deliberately poised and has a few moments of intrusive visual business, Paul Milton’s production, toured by Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre, is clear and coherent, well-played, especially by Christopher Timothy whose watchful, restrained Crofts suggests the underlying bully, and Richard Derrington as a conventionally-minded cleric – an admirably unfussy portrayal revealing the feebleness underlying social snobbery.
Only the final act disappoints, its thread of argument obscured by emotion-toting playing by the two women. But this is, overall, an intelligent, seriously amusing show.
Vivie Warren: Emily Woodward.
Praed: Christopher Bowen.
Mrs Warren: Sue Holderness.
Sir George Crofts: Christopher Timothy.
Frank Gardner: Ryan Saunders.
Rev Samuel Gardner: Richard Derrington.
Director: Paul Milton.
Designer: Dawn Allsopp.
Lighting: Michael E Hall.
Sound: Steve Anderson.
14-18 Jul Fri 8pm Sat 2.30pm & 7.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
21-25 Jul 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
28 Jul-1 Aug 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Festival Theatre 01684 892277 www.malvern-theatres.co.uk