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Mrs Warren proves too much to bare for Twiggy



Review by David Munro

IN GEORGE Bernard Shaw's play, Mrs Warren's Profession, Mrs Warren was a woman who ran a chain of brothels on the continent, which, in 1894, when the play was written, was not an acceptable dramatic subject.

Her daughter, a resolute young lady, was one the 'New Women' with a double first in Mathematics and a desire to make her way in the city - as it then was.

The play revolves around the clash of these two personalities, when the daughter discovers her mother's profession and rejects her. Not, apparently, because of what her mother was, but because she stood in the way of her, the daughter's profession.

To get away today with a plot of this nature the director requires two strong and accomplished actresses who can cut through the polemics and show whatever humanity Shaw allows his characters.

His women are therefore notoriously difficult to portray with conviction to modern theatregoers, weaned on less flamboyant styles of acting and many well-known actresses, not the least being Vivian Leigh, have fallen at the dramatic hurdles Shaw puts in their way.

It is therefore no dis-credit to Twiggy Lawson that she, too, fails to convince or give the necessary life and character to Mrs Warren.

Her performance is good but not strong enough. You never felt that she was a tough woman impervious to what society thought of her, whose Achilles heel was her daughter, who manages to penetrate the carapace Mrs Warren has developed around her character and destroy the edifice of self-delusion she has created.

Twiggy's Mrs Warren is the archetypical East End factory worker who has made good and doesn't understand what her daughter has become as a result of her upbringing and education. She gives a very good performance, but whether or not it is what Shaw meant is open to doubt.

Hannah Yelland, as her daughter, Vivie, comes nearer to the Shaw 'New Woman'. You can see in her the prototype of the line of Shaw heroines ending in Anne in Man and Superman, who have forsworn Victorian morality for their own, usually didactic, reasons.

Her performance, therefore, in a sense, annihilates Twiggie's Mrs Warren certainly, but the coup de grace she delivers in the final scene, where she dismisses her mother from her life, is more of a coup de theatre than a clash of two female titans.

You felt that Vivie meant it but that Mrs Warren did not, and that she would be back bloody but unbowed for the next round.

The maid had been sacked for breaking the cup but she knows that she will be forgiven when her mistress realises that she cannot do without her. An interesting and, in many ways, appealing slant on the character of Mrs Warren, but more one felt Mrs Twiggy Lawson's than George Bernard Shaw's.

As the men who decorate the stage whilst the two ladies are resting between bouts, Benedick Blythe was amusing, as Mr Praed, a dilettante artist whom Shaw used to represent the bohemian and 'loose' morals of the Victorian Chelsea set.

As Mrs Warren' partner in the brothel business and who felt that the daughter was part of the assets, Jeremy Clyde, as Sir George Crofts, did his best to portray the slimy commercialism, which Shaw believed lurked beneath the façade of the Victorian aristocrat.

Similarly, as the Reverend Samuel Gardner, the buffoon of a rector and father of the jeune premier, Mike Burnside puffed and postured effectively.

As his son, Frank Gardner, who is also, it appeared, Vivie's half brother, and who continued to pursue her when the truth was disclosed in a far from fraternal manner, Ryan Kiggel tried to prove that if you gabble Shaw's lines so no one in the audience can understand them, they might in the end makes some sense.

Unfortunately, they didn't - which was a pity, as Mr Kiggel has a promise, which he may fulfil if he takes a deep breath from time to time.

The revival, as the programme put it, was directed by James Robert Carson and was presumably a reproduction of Sir Peter Hall's original.

It is therefore difficult to apportion blame or credit to him, as the infelicities of the production and the interpretations of the characters should perhaps more properly be ascribed to Sir Peter.

The evening was very much the curate's egg, good in parts, and to paraphrase another Victorian saying, 'when it was good it was very, very good, when it was bad it was horrid'.

You could not dislike, and one felt it was not fair to criticize, Twiggy as she gave what, in another play, would have been a very good performance, but one has to say that Mrs Lawson's profession is definitely not Mrs Warren's.

Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw. Revival directed by. James Robert Carson (original director Sir Peter Hall), Designed by John Gardner, Costumes by Ronnie Dorsey, Lighting by Hartley T. A. Kemp, Sound by Stage Sound Services, Press; Lesley Downie Associates tel:01293 402624. WITH: Twiggy Lawson - Benedick Blythe - Hannah Yelland - Jeremy Clyde - Ryan Kiggell - Mike Burnside. Produced by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions and Stanhope Productions for The Peter Hall Company at Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey. Tickets 020 8940 0088.

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