Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Mrs Warren's Profession - Birmingham Rep

Mrs Warren's Profession
Writer: Goerge Bernard-Shaw
Director: Michael Rudman
Reviewer: Helen Chapman

Not being a particular enthusiast of period drama, often finding them slow, predictable and thin on a storyline, I was unconvinced that Mrs Warren’s Profession would win me over. I stand corrected. This was one of the best plays I’ve seen. Witty, intriguing and of substance. Bernard Shaw created Mrs Warren’s Profession in 1894 but it was banned from the stage until the 1920s. It would have been worth the wait. And now the Bath Theatre Royal brings it to life at the Birmingham Rep.

Shaw’s story centres around the strained relationship between mother and daughter. Vivie knows very little about her estranged Mother, but has happily enjoyed living off her Mother’s money. That is until she questioned where it came from and discovered that her wealth had somewhat less than respectable origins. It is a treat to see Felicity Kendal as Mrs Warren, a vivacious character, full of personality and a fancy for wealth and status. In contrast, her daughter Vivie is independent and headstrong, with no time for the arts and no time for romance. Instead she prefers to study hard, much to her Mother’s bemusement.

Their relationship moves from estrangement to reconciliation but ends with Vivie giving her mother an ultimatum, either she gives up managing the brothels, or she loses her daughter. The chemistry between the two is fantastic as they both clearly have different ideas of what a mother-daughter relationship should be like, with Vivie often humouring, and then barely even tolerating her Mother’s ideals. The story also involves several other characters from Mrs Warren’s past, some more endearing than others, and a smitten young man who Vivie isn’t really that interested in. To add to the complications, there is a question mark over Vivie’s father which when revealed, puts more of Vivie’s life into question.

Boasting an exceptional cast, Mrs Warren’s Profession is so enjoyable to watch. The combination of Shaw’s writing, careful directing by Michael Rudman, and attention to detail by the actors often left the audience chuckling. Whilst it is a light hearted play, Shaw also sought to draw attention to “the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together”.

The stage is all that would be expected for a period drama. The play is in four scenes, each set in a different part of the Warren’s estate made real by simple yet realistic props and impressive costumes.Mrs Warren’s Profession is a brilliant piece of theatre, and comes highly recommended. I’m a period drama convert.

Runs until Sat 14th Nov
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