I saw the play on 30th October 2002 at The Strand Theatre. The play is a revival of a Bernard Shaw production. It was directed by Peter Hall and starred Brenda Blethen as Mrs Warren.
The play is set in the late 19th Century. It’s about a young woman Vivvie Warren who discovers that her mother was a prostitute and still runs brothels. She also finds out that her current love-interest is her half-brother. She leaves her country home to become a businesswoman in London and support herself.
The plot is mainly to do with society’s hypocrisy. This play, like much of George Bernard Shaw’s work, is intended to stir moral passion in the audience and highlight corruption in society. Shaw’s plays frequently have female lead roles and in this particular play female status is an important theme.Order now
The two main characters, Vivvie and Mrs Warren, are upper-middle-class and have quite enough money. However, it becomes apparent that their money comes from a scandalous source. Vivvie is ashamed by her mother’s profession as well as disgusted when she finds that she still supports this appalling trade. The play is not so much to do with prostitution as views on prostitution. It is contradictory that, although the profession is thought to be nasty and low it has produced Mrs Warren, to all appearances a thoroughly respectable woman with plenty of money.
While ethical society frowns upon prostitution and considers it horrific, Shaw shows how society is set up in such a way that rewards it. Mrs Warren talks about the benefits she has: being able to go to theatre, eat what she wants, bathe in warm water, live in a big house, have servants, give her daughter an education. All these things have come out of her profits from prostitution.
In contrast her sisters did ‘honest’ work, lived unhappy lives and died young without any of the luxuries Mrs Warren has enjoyed. The rich, middle-class people with morals in society, at the time Shaw was writing, were those who went to brothels or invested in the businesses as well. They were also the people who owned the factories that paid such poor wages to hard-working people. These people condemned prostitutes and looked down on them, but at the same time supported them and made prostitution such an attractive job.
George Bernard Shaw used this play to show how corrupt society was and how hypocritical it’s ethics were. This is why it is ironic that the play was banned in until 1925. The play did not promote prostitution, merely commented on how society did this.
‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ was written in Victorian times, late 19th Century. At this time Melodrama was a popular style. Shaw was one of the first playwrights to write in a more serious vein: Naturalism. There was a rise of Naturalism in Europe, lead by a playwright, Henrik Ibson. Naturalism was about bringing real life to the stage. It usually involved a controversial issue and characters were realistic and complex. George Bernard Shaw wanted his audience to empathise with his characters and to make them contemplate the issues he raised. His plays were designed, not just to entertain, but to enlighten. He used language and sometimes wit, such as comedy of manners, to communicate various ideas. His plays were plays of ideas, often about shocking social issues such as prostitution. Shaw was inspired by Henrik Ibson and by other, similar playwrights of the time, such as Oscar Wilde.
Mrs Warren was played by Brenda Blethen. The character she played had risen to aristocracy from the poorer working classes. Brenda Blethen portrayed this by changing her voice and movements. For most of the play she talked with a middle-class London accent and attempted to be lady-like and composed. However, when she became emotional or sometimes just at random moments, she slipped into a cockney accent. It became apparent, through this technique, that her middle-class appearance was an act some of Mrs. Warren’s background was evident without the script. Mrs. Warren was very brash and occasionally coarse, her voice was loud and often superior.
This said something about her character: she was used to being in charge and she was not subservient to men. She was also not very polite, emphasising the fact that she was her own woman and that she little respect for others, especially men. Brenda Blethen made large gestures when Mrs. Warren was upset. She portrayed her emotions by changing her voice’s tone and pitch and how loudly she spoke.
Frank Gardener, Vivvie’s love-interest, was played by Laurence Fox. His character was quite well-educated and had quite a middle-class accent. He walked with a spring in his step and was quite jolly. Depending on whether Frank was serious or silly, Laurence Fox changed the tone of his voice. When Frank was upset he looked to the floor, shuffled his feet or moved his hands. When he was angry the actor strode around the stage. Frank’s character was dominated by Vivvie. He was in love with her. When he talked to her Laurence Fox made his voice softer and quieter. He played at being a little boy when they were flirting. When he did this he created a lisp for his character and shuffled on his knees. He was a silly character in general and reflected this in more melodramatic actions as shrugging in a comedic fashion, walking in a silly manner and making jerky movements.
I enjoyed the play. I was particularly impressed by Brenda Blethen who I thought was a brilliant actor. I liked all the other performances, especially Vivvie and Franks’. They were all talented and specifically skilful at portraying their emotions with good use of facial expression, movement and voice. I liked the sets and the detailed props as well as the backdrop which I think gave a modern flavour. I thought the play was quite interesting and informative on Victorian society’s hypocrisy, although it had little modern-day reference. I thought the script was quite witty and found the performances had a comedic element in some scenes. I wouldn’t recommend this play in particular because I didn’t think it was especially good, but I did enjoy the performance and would consider seeing another play by George Bernard Shaw. I thought the acting by Brenda Blethen was impressive and would definitely like to see another play which she stars in.