Mrs Warren's Profession at Shaw Festival

Mrs Warren's Profession at Shaw Festival

The 2016 Shaw Festival is Jackie Maxwell’s last as Artistic Director. Long one of the festival’s most celebrated directors and creative influences, her most lavish input for her 14th festival has been her directorial duties for 2016’s Sweeney Todd and Uncle Vanya. But she’s also ensured the year’s line-up has a varied mix of personal favourites – including the George Bernard Shaw play she claims as her favourite.

Mrs Warren's Profession Banned Play

Mrs Warren’s Profession is an early entry in Shaw’s body of work, written in 1893 but not performed until 1902. The reason for this delay was the ban placed upon its public performance by the Lord Chamberlain, due to its content; the ‘profession’ of the titular Mrs Warrens was prostitution, a taboo subject at the time. In fact, early performances saw cast and crew arrested for official censorship violations.

For all its controversy, it’s not a crass or overtly sexual play – the core of the performance is Mrs Warren, made wealthy from owning brothels, revealing the true nature of her work to her young adult daughter Vivie, and the clash of ideals that develops between the pragmatic elder Warren and her progressive, more idealistic offspring. There are romances at play as well, but the debate of the Warren women is the play’s thematic (and dramatic) heartbeat.

Mrs Warren's Profession Appearance at Shaw Festival

Mrs Warren’s Profession has been played at the Shaw Festival before, most recently in 2008 when it was directed by Jackie Maxwell herself, and here the director’s chair is filled by Eda Holmes, a long-time contributor to Canadian theatre. She’s retained the original script but added some contemporary framing, positing it as a revival of the original 1902 performances – which took place in a private men’s lodge.

This is a play in conversation with gender issues, and Holmes’ framing touches ensure not only that this rendition of Mrs Warren’s Profession feel fresh in comparison to previous productions, but that the conversation can’t be mistaken as just a treatise on the 19th century sex trade.

Playing until October in the 2016 Shaw Festival, this production of Mrs Warren’s Profession is part of Jackie Maxwell’s goodbye love letter to the festival and a unique, engaging play in its own right.

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Royal George Theatre
85 Queen Street