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Mrs Warren’s Profession

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
Prostitution, as George Bernard Shaw maintained in his 1894 exploration of women of independent means, is a lucrative business. Banned except for private performances for more than 30 years, at a time when female emancipation was only just beginning to show its muscles, it’s easy to see how a prim establishment could contrive to be shocked by it. More than a century on, its exposure of male hypocrisy retains considerable bite, even if the debate does tend to go around the houses somewhat.

At first glance, the relationship between Cambridge educated proto-Thatcherite Vivie and her self-made mother is akin to a 19th century Absolutely Fabulous, with Mrs Warren a rough diamond with a devoted if aging male entourage. As predatory toff Sir George Crofts spills the beans, both about Vivie’s alleged parentage and the source of her privileges, her budding romance with vicar’s son Frank looks doomed, and she must strike out on her own.

Tony Cownie’s elegant and handsome-looking production takes its subject as seriously as Mrs Warren herself takes her booming business. Its lengthy set-pieces between mother and daughter show off both the economic necessity of the senior’s bid to turn dirty money clean, and for Vivie’s need to break free of living off what she sees as immoral earnings. The hints of incest that prevail throughout only adds to her wilfulness to be alone.

Paola Dionisotti is a vision in purple as Mrs Warren, betraying her humble roots in the face of her daughter’s defiance, given dignified poise by Emma Stansfield. Dougal Lee makes for a thoroughly nasty moustache-twirling villain as Crofts in this still pertinent questioning of a system where supply and demand still lead to exploitation.

The Herald, February 19th 2007

ends

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