Review: Mrs Warren’s Profession, by George Bernard Shaw, Cambridge Arts Theatre, until July 25

Mrs Warren's Profession, Cambridge

Mrs Warren's Profession, Cambridge - Credit: Archant

Amusing, entertaining and thought provoking, Mrs Warren’s Profession is an absolute treat.

And Bernard Shaw’s condemnation of the hypocrisy of late 19th century morality is surprisingly relevant more than a century after it was written.

The profession in question is, of course, the oldest, and Mrs Warren’s life choices, or lack of them, come under scrutiny in this masterpiece of writing.

Set in the 1890s the play focuses on the relationship between Mrs Warren, played with nuanced skill by the talented Sue Holderness, and her bright and feisty daughter Vivie, portrayed with brio by Emily Woodward. The pair hardly know each other as Vivie, courted by the flippant son of a local vicar, has been kept out of her mother’s life to be given the education and upbringing, thanks to her mother’s chosen trade, that Mrs Warren never had. The irony is this start in life enables Vivie to take the moral high ground and strike out on her own in the world as a modern woman undefined and unsupported by men – a radical idea in 19th century Britain.

Speckled with humour and memorable quotations - “Knowledge is power and I never sell power” and “There are no secrets better kept than the secrets that everybody guesses” - Bernard Shaw explores a number of themes including the subjugation of women, the relationship between parents and children, class, and the morality of money. Arguably the only character with any integrity is Sir George Crofts, even though he might be the least likeable of men.

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Performed with a strong cast, decent staging, great costumes, and lively acting, this play makes social comment extremely entertaining.

A clever and witty piece of theatre.

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Mrs Warren’s Profession runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday July 25.

James Marston

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