Mrs Warren’s Profession
By BERNARD SHAW
Directed by EDA HOLMES
Designed by PATRICK CLARK
Lighting designed by KIMBERLY PURTELL
“There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.”
Can Shaw still shock you? We think so. Kitty Warren has worked hard to provide for her daughter and now that Vivie is about to strike out on her own, her mother decides it’s time for her feminist daughter to finally learn the truth about her mother’s profession. A contemporary look at a classic play that still challenges our notions of motherhood and the business of sex. Originally banned from public performance, it was first staged at a private men’s club and the production in New York led to arrests. Shaw himself said about the play, “Ah, when I wrote that, I had some nerve.”
“This is without doubt one of my favourite of Shaw’s plays. It is a searing exposé of the world’s oldest ‘profession’ while also being a spirited defence of those who enter it, and it is all told through a love story – from first ‘date’ to break up – between a mother and daughter … brilliant! I directed the last production here in 2008 and am thrilled to pass the baton to Eda Holmes for a whole new take on the play in the intimate surroundings of the Royal George.” —JM
This show is recommended for ages 15+.
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.
Assistant Stage Manager
Sir George Crofts
Mrs Kitty Warren
Reverend Samuel Gardner
Shaw angered critics and censors with this play so much that it was banned from performance in England for many years and actors were arrested at its first performance in New York. What play could elicit such a reaction? As Shaw said about it in a letter to actress Ellen Terry, “It’s much my best play; but it makes my blood run cold: I can hardly bear the most appalling bits of it. Ah, when I wrote that, I had some nerve.”
We meet Vivie Warren, newly graduated from university, who is eager to embark on a career in finance. Having been raised mostly in boarding schools, Vivie is determined to find out why her mother (the Mrs Warren of the title) is so secretive about her life and her business matters – Vivie doesn’t know the source of her mother’s income (prostitution), or even the name of her own father. She has made friends with Frank, a young man who lives nearby and who wants to marry her. When Frank’s father, a clergyman, and Mrs Warren meet by surprise, they realize they met long ago, under very different circumstances. Frank’s father tells Mrs Warren that he will not allow his son to marry Vivie, because of Mrs Warren’s shameful past.
In the second act, Mrs Warren explains to her daughter how she came to live this life – that it was to escape a life of poverty and drudgery. She tells her daughter about her struggles as a poor woman who could not earn a decent living and she finally explains how she, and other women, come to the world of high-end prostitution:
“Why shouldn’t I have done it? The house in Brussels was real high class; a much better place for a woman to be in than the factory where Anne Jane got poisoned. None of our girls were ever treated as I was treated in the scullery of that temperance place, or at the Waterloo bar, or at home. Would you have had me stay in them and become a worn-out old drudge before I was forty?”
Surprisingly, Vivie can accept her mother’s choices and calls her “stronger than all England.” What Vivie cannot accept however is when she later learns that her mother continues to work in this profession, even though it is now no longer financially necessary for her to do so. This is what the final showdown comes to – theatrical fireworks between mother and daughter.
Despite being banned, Shaw was convinced that this play would show the public the source of trafficking “and how it was boldly defended morally by the people who profited it.” He continued to lobby for the production of his play. An edited version was passed by the censor but never produced, while the unlicensed full version was rejected by at least 12 theatres, two music halls, three hotels and two picture-galleries until in 1902 a private performance was presented at a small London theatre club. Later requests were systematically refused by the censor; as late as 1917 a petition signed by more than 200 distinguished citizens was rejected although by that time the play had been performed in many other countries around the world. Finally a London production was allowed in 1926. But the play continued to shock: when the Abbey Theatre produced it in 1961 the Dublin newspapers pronounced the play obscene.
But Shaw’s challenge of ninety years ago, as declared in a 1925 programme note, continues to resonate today: “Mrs Warren’s profession is a vested interest; and when a woman of bold character and commercial ability applies to herself the commercial principles that are ruthlessly applied to her in the labour market, the result is Kitty Warren …You will hear her justify herself completely on those principles. Whether you and I, as citizens and voters, will be able to justify ourselves, on higher principles than those of commerce, for having made her justification not only possible but unanswerable, is another matter. I cannot pretend to feel easy about it. Can you?”
May 18-20 and September 28-30
Calling all theatre lovers! Meet the creative minds behind theatre-making at the Shaw Festival, from play selection to play direction. Includes: four plays, three lunches, presentations, and parking. From $395.
Continue the Conversation
May 31, June 21, July 13, August 17, September 15
Long after the curtain falls, Shaw audience members continue to talk about the intellectual and emotional meanings of the play. Why not join us to continue the conversation? Following select matinees of Mrs Warren’s Profession meet with fellow patrons for a moderated discussion. Complimentary.
Scholars and fans of Bernard Shaw join together to hear academic papers and participate in discussions. Includes: two Shaw plays, parking, reception and picnic lunch. From $260. Students $150.
May We Introduce You to … GB Shaw!
May 27, June 18, August 20, September 10 | 11am
The Shaw Festival is a theatre company inspired by the works of Bernard Shaw. But just who was Bernard Shaw? Join Jim Mezon, one of the foremost Shavian actors in North America to learn about Bernard Shaw, the Shaw Festival’s namesake and playwright who became a legend through his prolific writings, his sensational political views, and his unique way of life. $20/person.
The Shaw’s premier adult education experience. Enrich your understanding of the work on our stages through discussions with artists, writers, scholars, and fellow participants. Includes: six plays, lunches, reception, presentations and parking. From $780.
Book Beyond the Stage events at 1.800.511.7429.
… the production was very professional, excellent acting and well produced.
Very impressive. Great actors. Set is amazing.
Flawless preview performance of Mrs Warren’s Profession. Shaw writes plays that are amazingly relevant after 114 years!
… the performances were so precise and intelligent that I discovered new insights and emotional depths at every turn.
Cleverly set: contemporary men’s club. Saw through fresh lens. Emotionally powerful too.
I was totally engaged and urge everyone to experience this new look at difficult material. See this production if you possibly can.
Great play, professional actors, stage design and directorship.