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MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
May 20, 2016, 13:17
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MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival

By Augustine Warner

Vivie Warren is that worst kind of college graduate, the kind certain of knowing more than anyone else and absolutely certain of moral superiority.
In “Mrs Warren’s Profession,” Vivie (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) discovers she has lived a pleasant life with an absent mother, Mrs. Warren (Nicole Underhay), who has paid her way all the way through Cambridge from the profits of a chain of brothels across Europe.
Only after lecturing her mother about the need for women to be better people and more willing to fight back does her mother break her personal rules and explain the family history about which Vivie knows nothing, to explain how her mother and her previously unknown aunt are rich off the proceeds of what we now call sex trafficking.
The morally certain daughter can’t believe her mother didn’t live a moral and poverty-stricken life, instead choosing to follow her sister into the good life paid for by a bad life.
She also discovers friends of her mother who are living off the rich avails of prostitution, especially Sir George Crofts (another wonderful performance from Thom Marriott).
There’s also Reverend Samuel Gardner (Shawn Wright), who knows things about Kitty Warren, and his son, Frank Gardner, who was at Cambridge with Vivie and loves her.
There’s also the artist Praed (Gray Powell), who’s deep into this little coterie.
Vivie doesn’t want to be the little woman at home, instead choosing to work in the legal community around Chancery Lane with an old friend who is an actuary.
My niece is an actuary and I don’t quite understand the mechanics of what she does, using her high-level math skills.
Vivie was an academic star in math, in a time when women could go to Cambridge women’s colleges like Newnham and Girton, but couldn’t get degrees from that ancient university and she’s not happy about that.
What we have under the pen of George Bernard Shaw is a cultural cusp between a mother who saw only one choice to avoid the poverty and starvation of her own family and a daughter who saw education and hard work as the way to give herself choices.
Given knowledge of her mother’s choices, she feels morally justified in her own choices.
Director Eda Holmes and designer Patrick Clark did something very different with this production, using the play’s history.
Shaw’s play couldn’t be performed on stage, under Britain’s censorship laws of the day, and could only be performed in a private club and it was.
A series of Shaw’s early plays were censored off the popular stage.
This production is staged in a private club, the New Lyric Gentlemen’s Club, where it was staged, and the cast has to occasionally explain the imaginary scenes of the play staged around the leather furniture and magnificent wall paneling of the club, from a cottage garden to Honoria Fraser’s chambers in Chancery Lane.
There are also the costumes, or lack of, since the performers are dressed in their civilian clothes, although Vivie’s skirt lengths seem today not 1902.
Holmes has a series of wonderful performances to work with, especially Marriott and Underhay and the others aren’t far behind.
One of the gifts of Shaw was to look at his own time and recognize society’s flows as the Victorian age ended and create stories relevant more than a century later.
He also recognized the justification rich guys like Crofts use to explain their choices, to live an upper crust life from the exertions and doomed lives of hundreds of impoverished women, arguing everyone else does it.
Does that sound familiar?
That’s why “Mrs Warren’s Profession” is a must-see, even this early in the Shaw season.
You discover a lot of similarities between early Edwardian 1902 and hedge fund 2016.

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