Mrs Warren's Profession at The Everyman Theatre
PUBLISHED: 11:11 24 June 2015 | UPDATED: 15:08 24 June 2015
The Cheltenham theatre plays host to a star-studded cast with a strong in-house production of Bernard Shaw's sharp social comedy
He is arguably our greatest modern playwright, but Shaw’s work is often left underperformed in favour of the plays of Ibsen or Wilde. This summer, Paul Milton, Creative Director of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, brings one of Bernard Shaw’s most controversial plays to the Cotswold stage before it tours around the country.
Banned for 30 years when it was first written in 1894 due to its frank discussion of the world’s oldest profession, the production still maintains some of that shock factor – even if it doesn’t offend our sensibilities these days.
A drama of ideas, the play is far from the sentimental Victorian picture postcard that Dawn Allsopp’s set, dripping with huge volumes of flowers and trellis, implies. When the strong-willed Vivie, played by the fantastic Emily Woodward, discovers her genteel upbringing and new woman status are the result of Mrs Warren’s unspeakable profession it puts her claim that “fashionable morality is all a pretence” to its most challenging test.
The production boasts a fabulous six-strong cast. Sue Holderness, best known for her role as Marlene in Only Fools and Horses, commands attention as the exquisitely dressed Mrs Warren. While Christopher Timothy’s cane-wielding performance of the sleazy Sir George is the perfect contrast to intelligent Vivie’s no-nonsense approach – breaking down gender stereotypes from the word go, she possesses the strongest handshake on the stage and is the star of the show.
A staunch socialist, Shaw was a radical celebrity of this time – vegetarian, non-smoker and, even more radically, a believer in women’s rights. The play draws attention to the poor working conditions and low wages, particularly for women, of the Victorian age – a point that over 100 years on should be well in the past. But with the living wage, zero hour contracts and equal pay for women still making headlines today, it appears that the play’s thematic concerns are still as relevant. Laughter comes in the opening act, when Praed, played by Christopher Bowen, makes overblown exclamation of “what a monstrous, wicked, rascally system!” but on reflection, you might agree by the end.
The Everyman’s energetic and entertaining production highlights the musicality of the text and proves why Shavian drama continues to endure today. It might be one of Bernard Shaw’s ‘Plays Unpleasant’, but this is a cracking night out.
Catch Mrs Warren’s Profession at The Everyman Theatre, Regent Street until Saturday 27 June. For tickets visit www.everymantheatre.org.uk
Want to find out more about the cast of Mrs Warren’s Profession? Read our interview with Sue Holderness and Christopher Timothy.
Two opinions are better than one, so we also sent Katie Jarvis along to see Shaw’s play about ‘the world’s oldest profession’ at the Everyman - to see what she thought, read her review.
Words: Daisy McCorgray