George Bernard Shaw wrote Mrs Warren’s profession in 1893. It was immediately banned by the Lord Chamberlain, and it was not until 1925 that it had its first public performance. A lot has changed in the last hundred years, and there is little in the text now which would scandalise. Indeed, given that it is dealing with issues of prostitution it is surprisingly coy in its use of language.
The core of the play is the relationship and conflict between Mrs Warren, who has made a prosperous living through her prostitution business, and her daughter, who has benefited, largely unknowingly, from the financial security and educational and economic advantages which her mother’s wealth has provided her. In this production, the mother and daughter are played by real mother and daughter Caroline and Rose Quentin.
Although the context has moved on, many of the issues touched on in the play are as relevant today as they were hundred years ago, particularly the role of women in society, prostitution being an economic necessity rather than a moral weakness, and the hypocrisy of those who make a living by exploiting others.
Shaw’s plays are not always easy for modern audiences because of his tendency for his characters to give speeches rather than engage in dialogue. Director Anthony Banks and the cast tried to overcome this by delivering the lines at great speed, and the pace was impressive, although in the process some of the diction became a little unclear.
It is also not an easy play to stage, particularly for a touring production, having three separate locations, but David Woodward’s design was imaginative. The Haslemere scene included a delightful mini thatched cottage into which the cast squeezed themselves. In the second scene the cleverly designed facade of the church folded away to enable the final scene in the law offices in Chancery Lane to roll forward.
The acting was excellent. Carolyn Quentin shone in the role of the troubled Kitty Warren and Rose Quentin was a splendid foil as the self-assured and highly achieving, but emotionally distant, Vivie. All the cast did their best to wring out the humour in the text. The hypocritical Reverend Sam Gardner, well played by Matthew Cottle, was another of Shaw’s vehicles for pouring scorn on British institutions.
This production is a must for fans of the works of George Bernard Shaw. For others it will be an evening of sparkling drama, well-acted and excellently presented, but ultimately, it is a piece of historic drama rather than a play for today. Playing until 26th November, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/mrs-warrens-profession/richmond-theatre/
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 22nd November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★