You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mrs. Warren’s Profession

The West End rewinds the clock with "Mrs. Warren's Profession," the Brenda Blethyn starrer that has arrived just in time to become the celeb vehicle of choice for those who can't get into Glenn Close, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in their sellout London plays.

Mrs. Warren - Brenda Blethyn Vivie Warren - Rebecca Hall Sir George Crofts - Richard Johnson Rev. Samuel Gardner - James Saxon Mr. Praed - Peter Blythe Frank Gardner - Laurence Fox

The West End rewinds the clock with “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” the Brenda Blethyn starrer that has arrived just in time to become the celeb vehicle of choice for those who can’t get into Glenn Close, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in their sellout London plays. Those who land at the Strand Theater shouldn’t feel as if they have settled for second best, even if Peter Hall’s production has a somewhat clunky feeling that is of a piece with the clumsy (and, on opening night at least, noisy) scene changes of John Gunter’s notably unelaborate, photograph-led set. However stolid the stagecraft, there’s no denying the innate immediacy and vigor of Shaw’s thoroughly accessible if once seditious play, which puts on trial a mother’s modus vivendi only to allow Mrs. Warren’s disapproving daughter, Vivie, to walk off with the show.

It’s not unusual for Shaw’s century-old drama to be usurped by the actress playing Vivie, a feat that Pamela Reed and Lynn Redgrave in my experience have both managed at different times. But the success of 20-year-old Rebecca Hall in a leading part for which the young Cambridge graduate — here making her West End debut as a young Cambridge graduate — receives below-the-title billing, should please the evening’s director no end. As the name suggests, Hall fille is Sir Peter’s own daughter, and a tall, feisty and clearly able chip off the theatrical block has she turned out to be. (For the record, the West End is positively awash at the moment in Halls. Rebecca’s older brother, Edward, is directing Sean Bean in “Macbeth,” opening next month at the Albery.)

Rebecca’s achievement (presumably guided by her father) is very real, not least because she wisely resists the temptation to turn Vivie into a mere scold. Vivie, after all, comes late to the collectively held knowledge that her mother’s money — and her daughter’s exalted social standing — was made from running brothels, a shame-inducing fact that the conventionally minded child would prefer to forget. Whereas Blethyn’s Mrs. Warren swans about in red, her voice sliding up and down the social scale depending on her levels of stress, Vivie has closed the lid on romance and relationships and any but the most crisply enunciated accent. As for fun, forget it: The moralizing Vivie is far too busy beating a path to chambers in Chancery Lane to let herself be sidetracked by the sweet-natured Frank Gardner (played by Laurence Fox, son of James Fox and here cutting perhaps too emphatic a figure of what the English so wonderfully call gormlessness).

With Shaw laying fearless waste to a hypocrisy that society continues to stink of today — how many newspapers even now take Vivie’s morally crusading line when any reader can see that they are dependent upon the very “vices” they claim to revile — “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” proceeds to relate the tussle for Vivie’s soul, assuming she has one. And so it helps to have a Vivie, however gangly, who is capable of hinting behind the layers of jaw-jutting pragmatism at some kind of embryonic inner life. Rebecca Hall is at her best at the start of the second act in the heated face-off with Sir George Crofts (Richard Johnson), Mrs. Warren’s business partner and — in Johnson’s characteristically cunning performance — low-voiced lech. (As Johnson plays him, Crofts suggests a more comical variant on those deviant, similarly aging judges and pastors of which Ibsen is so fond.)

Ms. Hall holds her own in that encounter and pretty much takes over the climactic one with mama that comes later, a clash of wills ultimately sold short by a broadness from Blethyn that left some of the audience chuckling: Talk about shame! Blethyn last appeared on a London stage six years ago as the distaff lead with the squeezable breasts in Sam Mendes’ defining revival of Alan Bennett’s “Habeas Corpus,” a perf that was simultaneously attuned to the worlds of farce and grief.

As Mrs. Warren, Blethyn is very funny demanding of others that they imagine this free-living entrepreneur “in a cathedral town,” while you can see her registering that Vivie is turning in front of her mother’s eyes into the self-same “drudge” that Mrs. Warren in her own life has been so determined not to be. But there’s another half to Shaw’s play — the subtextual desperation — that Blethyn simply doesn’t register, in the process allowing the stage novice cast as her daughter to energize a perennially popular satire anew.

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Strand Theater; 950 seats; £37.50 ($58) top

Production: ATheater Royal Haymarket Prods. and Stanhope Prods. presentation of the play by George Bernard Shaw in two acts. Directed by Peter Hall.

Creative: Sets and costumes, John Gunter; lighting, Hartley T. A. Kemp. Opened, reviewed Oct. 10, 2002. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Mrs. Warren - Brenda Blethyn Vivie Warren - Rebecca Hall Sir George Crofts - Richard Johnson Rev. Samuel Gardner - James Saxon Mr. Praed - Peter Blythe Frank Gardner - Laurence Fox

More Legit

  • Michael Shannon Audra McDonald

    Michael Shannon, Audra McDonald to Star in Broadway Revival of 'Frankie and Johnny'

    Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald will portray two lovers whose one-night stand turns into something deeper in the Broadway revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The production is being mounted in honor of playwright Terrence McNally’s 80th birthday. Shannon will play a short-order cook and McDonald will portray a waitress, roles [...]

  • Hamilton review London

    ‘Hamilton’ Helps Drive London Theater Attendance, Box Office to Record Levels

    Brits don’t just like going to the movies; they’re heading to the theater in greater numbers than before, too. “Hamilton” and other hits, particularly musicals, helped drive an uptick in box office receipts and attendance in London’s West End and across the U.K. last year, according to figures from the organizations Society of London Theatre [...]

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content