Mrs Warren's Profession

George Bernard Shaw

It was quite a chastening experience to finish watching this entertaining DVD on the day on which John Gabriel Borkman opened at the Donmar.

Within a few hours, the rosy-cheeked young Evie had become transformed into bitter spinster Ella Rentheim, or to be more accurate Penelope Wilton, who starred in each, aged 35 years in a day. Such are the wonders of modern technology that one can watch a play from 1972 and another from 2007 in succession.

Miss Wilton was perfectly cast as the practical, highly educated young woman whose discovery of her mysterious mother's past (and present) comes as a chastening shock.

She plays the part rather like Joyce Grenfell, with a manly walk, a strong handshake and bluff demeanour. This is enough to scare off most of the men who come to visit, including a stream of her mother's former lovers and even the laid-back, platitudinous Lothario Frank, played by a very young-looking Robert Powell.

The main action of the play is centred on the clash of personalities and outlooks between young Evie and her mother Mrs Warren, an arch-capitalist who has got rich on the back of a chain of hotels across Europe, which offer young ladies as part of the package.

Coral Browne makes a suitably sinister Mrs Warren, with a rough accent that contains more of her native Australian than she might have intended. Her mixture of overbearing bullying and wounded pride is a joy to see and somehow, she manages to make this least sympathetic of characters seem human.

Away from the battle, much humour is injected into Herbert Wise's production by the performances of a series of men of a certain age, led by Richard Pearson as Frank's father, a vicar with a past; James Grout as rich poor Sir George Crofts; and Derek Godfrey as the overly innocent Praddy.

Mrs Warren's Profession shows Shaw close to his very best, with a well-balanced combination of social comedy and political comment. This production features a series of excellent performances, as well as the opportunity to see one of today's finest actresses demonstrating that the talent was always there.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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