A game revival for Mrs Warren which had me cheering!

Review by Paul Nelson

REFRESHINGLY short for a writer known for his long-winded prefaces and plays steeped in messages and deep angst, Mrs Warren's Profession is a stunning success.

I never thought I would be able to write that. The Peter Hall Company has provided some grim evenings this year, notably The Royal Family and Lady Windermere's Fan, both pandering to a star name syndrome rather than to a downright attack on the plays at a work level.

The Royal Family had Judi Dench and Toby Stephens salvaging the evening and Lady Windermere's Fan was similarly saved from utter boredom by Googie Withers and John McCallum. In the current offering we have Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Warren, heading a cast of truly hard-working thespians.

Blethyn got where she is not by being a relative of somebody, nor I suspect by other Laddie or Luvvie means, but like the rest of this well-chosen cast, by hard grind. The exceptions are the two juveniles who are both making their West End debuts.

The result is an evening of absolute sincerity coupled with the expertise you would expect in the heart of London. You are given an attractive setting and costumes, superb lighting, and a return by Peter Hall to the trenches that earned him his knighthood.

Of Brenda Blethyn there is little to say but praise. Her performance of a lowborn but now acceptable lady in a certain strata of society is impeccable. Her lapses, when she is moved emotionally, into her East End vernacular, are as exciting as they are unexpected.

As her business partner Sir George Crofts (by now the world must know the plot of this play, but for the benefit of those who do not, she is a madam, owner of a chain of European brothels), Richard Johnson is superb. So good that one feels a shudder, knowing what one knows about him, when he seriously imagines for a moment or three that he could be a suitable partner to Vivie, Mrs Warren's daughter.

There is a delightfully observed performance by Peter Blythe as Mr Praed, an artistic architect, one wonders what on earth his buildings would look like, and a gem from James Saxon as an almost caricature Rev Samuel Gardner. It isn't a caricature however, he has deeper tendrils creeping around in his insides.

Which brings us to the juves, both naturally new to me and to the West End.

Laurence Fox brings a freshness to the silly ass suitor to Vivie. His attentions almost bring tears to the eyes so sincere are they. It is a fine performance of a part that I have previously always seen thrown aside.

The surprise of the evening is a beautifully crafted performance of Vivie by Rebecca Hall. Not for this heroine the pompous prig, the scolding, or reproachful righteous daughter. Rather she brings to the role what Mrs Warren saw in her sister, once a partner, now a respectable woman in a cathedral town (Winchester). She has a startling assurance and composure and the performance is most notable.

Harking back to what I have written in an earlier paragraph to this article, I have to shamefacedly admit she is Peter Hall's daughter. Watching her flawless characterisation, I have to say I don't care; I'll eat crow if not my words.

The play is old fashioned, and consequently can be tiresome in that you are aware almost by telepathy what is going to happen. When, though, you have this possible chestnut, a play almost impossible to believe was ever banned, so superbly performed, you have to raise a cheer.

I do so, unashamedly.

Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Peter Hall, Designed by John Gunter, Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp. WITH: Peter Blythe (Mr Praed), Rebecca Hall (Vivie Warren), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs Warren), Richard Johnson (Sir George Crofts), Laurence Fox (Frank Gardner), James Saxon (The Rev. Samuel Gardner) and Carole Dance, Jack Huston, Frank Jarvis, Kirsty Yates. Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions and Stanhope Productions in association with Theatre Royal Bath Productions present The Peter Hall Company at The Strand Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2. Box Office 0870 901 3356.