Mrs Warren’s Profession

Diana Quick

Diana Quick

“Shedding their clothes for mens’ mags has become a fashionable rite of passage for certain performers – a mark of status before gravity and over-familiarity get them struck off the editors’ wish lists. While not implying that this is akin to entering one of the oldest callings – as exemplified in Mrs Warren’s Profession – I wonder if in years to come they too, like Mrs Warren, will be spurned by daughters with radically different ethics. John Tydeman’s crisp direction delineated neatly the many hypocrisies in society at the very end of the Victorian era when Shaw wrote this play. We may laugh now at the fact that it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain for 30years, presumably for pointing out that Mrs Warren not only ran a group of continental brothels but had done very well out of them, rather than for its perspective on the exploitation of women in the workplace. But more than 100 years on, it is still a very modern-sounding drama, its effect only dulled slightly by Shaw’s inability to create characters who are much more than ciphers.

Roger Hammond’s depiction of the local vicar as a bumbling fogey incapacitated by alcohol, for which he has invented the condition ‘clergyman’s throat’, provided comedy while Mrs Warren’s daughter Vivie was played by Claire Skinner with the requisite earnest prissiness. Her mother’s unseemly profits means that Vivie can afford to take her moral stance but is nevertheless prepared to sell herself short in her own career.

Diana Quick was a bit of a panto turn as Mrs Warren, one of two ‘well made’ daughters of a woman ‘who called herself a widow’ and who had used their physical attributes to pull themselves out of penury. By contrast, their two ugly half-sisters had opted for what Shaw saw as the slavery of respectable poverty. As Mrs Warren’s genteel affectations were revealed as such and her real history unveiled, Quick’s portrait became increasingly vaudevillian, her accent plummeting into the gutter. She was physically recreating her old self in front of our eyes – I should say ears but I saw this woman as clearly as if she was standing before me.”

– The Stage

“Shaw was surely better at women than Dickens, and John Tydeman’s Radio 3 production of Mrs Warren’s Profession dealing with social hypocrisy and prostitution, should be up there as the best radio production of the year. With Diana Quick and Claire Skinner as the warring mother and daughter, the tone shifted from spiteful bravura to heart-torn wisdom, Shaw’s scalding wit holding off any lurch into melodrama.”

– The Herald, Scotland