Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Mrs Warren's Profession - Lowry Theatre, Salford

Mrs Warren’s Profession
Writer: George Bernard Shaw
Director : Michael Rudman
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

At the time it was written ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ was controversial because of the reluctance of the author to either justify or condemn prostitution arguing that the profession has its origins not in lust but rather economic conditions . If respectable professions paid a living wage , it is suggested ,women would not become so desperate that they have to resort to prostitution.

Paul Farnsworth’s striking set takes us right to the heart of the English countryside framed by the border of the stage so as to give the impression that we are looking at a lush oil painting. Vivie Warren (Lucy Briggs-Owen returning to Shaw after a successful run at the Manchester Royal Exchange) is a somewhat calculating Cambridge graduate with a strong work and moral ethic. She has never known her father and has a rather distant mother, Kitty (Felicity Kendal), whose profession requires her to travel a great deal. Vivie is forced to confront her own prejudices and those of society when it is revealed that Mrs. Warren’s income comes from managing a series of high-class brothels.

Director Michael Rudman does not put a foot wrong with a crystal-clear production. The challenge for him is to ensure that the characters convince as people and do not simply end up as ciphers mouthing the opinions of the author .In this he is assisted by a talented cast. David Yelland is excellent as the aging roué George Crofts having a really good time brazenly representing the hypocrisy of society. He is balanced by a gentle performance from Mark Tandy as the decent Praed. Max Bennett manages the tricky business of showing a degree of backbone in Frank a character that, on the surface at least, seems so feckless it is hard to see how someone as judgemental as Vivie could tolerate his presence.

The main body of the play is the interaction between Mrs. Warren and her daughter. Vivie is too judgemental to be entirely sympathetic. Briggs-Owen convinces that her opinions are formed from intellectual rigour as much as moral assessment and shows the human cost of such an attitude. Kendal is very much what Shaw had in mind for Kitty whom he describes as ‘vulgar’. Kendal gives Kitty music hall coarseness in the tone of voice that softens when alone with her daughter. For her sex is more about the power it gives her over her customers than any kind of physical pleasure. The final confrontation between the two women is riveting with Kendal playing Kitty as a female version of King Lear betrayed by a thankless child.

The great thing about a production, which pretty much gets everything right, is that the audience can just sit back and enjoy the show.

Runs until Sat 7th Nov
frontpage hit counter