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Mrs Warren’s Profession

I decided this morning that I’d not been to Malvern Theatre for a while, and that it was about time I had a look at what was available today as a standby seat at the matinĂ©e performance.The play turned out to be Mrs Warren’s Profession. George Bernard Shaw is not one of my favourite playwrights – I had more than enough of him at school, when an over-enthusiastic English teacher forced Pygmalion and Androcles and the Lion down my throat in successive terms. However, I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

The play was written and set in the 1890s, and was apparently considered very shocking when it was first performed. One of the main characters is a young woman who is has recognisably “modern” attitudes – she’s a Cambridge-educated mathematician, determined to earn her own living as an accountant. But then she discovers that the money she takes for granted, and that paid for her lifestyle and education, all comes from her mother’s successful business – a chain of high-class brothels across Europe. Cue lots of heartache and accusations of hypocrisy.

It was interesting, particularly seeing such a frank discussion of prostitution in a Victorian setting. I thought it came to a bit of a flat ending, but then I remember thinking much the same about Pygmalion. It was a pleasant enough way of spending the afternoon, though I’m pleased I only got a standby ticket rather than splashing out on a full-price seat. It didn’t overthrow the rather deep-seated opinion I have of GBS.

I do think, though, that it would have been much more entertaining if my Shaw-obsessed English teacher had made us study Mrs Warren’s Profession instead of the very dull Androcles and the Lion. I’d have quite enjoyed debating the limited career options for women in late-Victorian England, and the financial versus moral pressures that underpin the play. But that was never going to be an option at my rather old-fashioned girls’ school!