REVIEW: An amusing and intelligent adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s controversial drama

Rebecca Johnson as Vivie (left) with Jackie Curran as Kitty
Rebecca Johnson as Vivie (left) with Jackie Curran as Kitty
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Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Margaret Morris, The Archway Theatre, Horley, until April 4

In these relatively liberal and liberated times the subject of prostitution is still able to provoke some fiery debates.

Rebecca Johnson as Vivie

Rebecca Johnson as Vivie

It’s no surprise then that Mrs Warren’s Profession, George Bernard Shaw’s controversial classic, was banned in the stuffy 1890s.

The play tells the story of Vivie Warren, a young woman in Victorian England who has just graduated from Cambridge. She is supported by her affluent mother, Kitty, who has always kept her profession completely secret from Vivie. When Vivie learns that her mother managed to escape poverty through prostitution, it’s a shocking revelation to say the least. But there are even more devastating surprises in store...

Mrs Warren’s Profession asks unsettling questions but Archway’s version has a strong focus on the play’s humour and director Margaret Morris gets some great performances out of her actors.

Martin Livesey is charming as the meek, good-natured and slightly hypocritical Reverend Samuel Gardner while Michael Beach is enjoyable as the kind-hearted Praed.

However, Tom Robinson gets the biggest laughs with his wonderfully smug performance as the work-shy Frank Gardner. He’s essentially the clown of the story, refusing to take anything too seriously and keeping the mood light.

In contrast, Tom Haddon plays a believable villain, Sir George Crofts, an apparently respectable man who turns nasty when he can’t get what he wants.

Rebecca Johnson gives a measured and rather subtle performance as the sensible Vivie Warren. The way she speaks and moves suggests she has no time for nonsense, but she visibly makes an effort to empathise with others.

Mrs Kitty Warren can’t be an easy character to play but Jackie Curran handles it beautifully, highlighting the effects of a tough life on a person’s spirit. In one of the play’s best moments Kitty reveals her past, not with an overwhelming sense of shame, but with a kind of tiredness and anger about the way the world is. In fact, after Kitty explains the grim fates of people who tried to live a virtuous life, there’s something rather admirable about her actions. Her drive for self-preservation is understandable.

Both Rebecca Johnson and Jackie Curran work well with each other too and their interaction raises one of the play’s most important questions: when do Mrs Warren’s actions stop being justifiable?

Vivie and Kitty are wildly different from each other but their conflicting ideas never feel forced to give the audience a thinly disguised debate. Instead, the performers inhabit their roles so well that their opposing views on the brothel business seem completely natural, growing out of the characters’ own personal experiences.