Q&A: Sue Holderness and Christopher Timothy in Mrs Warren’s Profession
- Credit: Archant
Sue Holderness and Christopher Timothy talk about their roles in the Everyman Theatre’s production of Mrs Warren’s Profession, the play by Bernard Shaw that was so controversial it was banned on its release.
Between June 19 and 27, the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham will be entertaining audiences with their production of George Bernard Shaw’s play Mrs Warren’s Profession. The story follows Vivie Warren, a young Cambridge graduate who is horrified to learn that her education and luxurious life-style has been financed by her mother’s career in the ‘world’s oldest profession’.
Sue Holderness, best known for playing Marlene in Only Fools and Horses, is taking on the role of Mrs Warren, a former prostitute turned businesswoman, whose decisions challenge 19th Century convention. We spoke to Sue about her part in the play:
Q: The play was originally banned on its release in 1894. Why was this?
A: Shaw, who considered himself a “revolutionary writer”, wrote Mrs Warren’s Profession, in 1894, to draw attention to the fact that prostitution (rife at that time) was caused, “not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so that the poorest of them were forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together”. The Lord Chamberlain refused to issue a licence for performance as it was deemed to be far too shocking. The first public performance was in New Haven, Connecticut in October, 1905. The police closed it after the first night, and the whole cast were arrested on the charge of disorderly conduct!
Q: Bernard Shaw was very forward-thinking for his time, addressing the hypocrisies surrounding prostitution. Do you think the play would have had a positive impact on how women were perceived at the time?
A: Well, when the public were eventually allowed to see it in London, more than thirty years after Shaw wrote it, it certainly caused a stir. Some complained that Mrs Warren was “not wicked enough”. Shaw replied “Nothing would please our sanctimonious British public more than to throw the whole guilt of Mrs Warren’s profession on Mrs Warren herself. The whole of my play is to throw that guilt on the British public itself”. It certainly made people think about the subject of prostitution, and the lack of opportunities for working-class women.
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Q: What do you think of Mrs Warren – is she a likeable character?
A: I will be able to answer that question better when we have got into rehearsals. She is a complicated character. Her upbringing was tough. She had a strong mother and a weak father and there was very little money. Of course I find her likeable. It’s very hard to play any character without feeling a sympathy for them and having an understanding of why they do what they do. She is strong. She has had to be. And she is passionate about her role as a mother. She believes a woman must work hard, have self-respect and self-control. She is a woman of “bold character and commercial ability”. That’s quite a lot to like!
Q: What’s it like playing opposite Christopher [Timothy]?
A: Wonderful. I was overjoyed when I heard that Chris would be playing Sir George Croft. We have worked together before and known each other for many years. That is enormously helpful. I’m so looking forward to working with him again.
Q: Have you performed at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre before?
A: Yes - a few times. I did four tours of Calendar Girls and the first of those tours came to Cheltenham for two weeks. And two years ago I played Olivia Brown in Terence Rattigan’s “Less Than Kind” opposite the splendid actor William Gaminara. A very happy job!
Q: What, for you, stands out about this particular production?
A: Paul Milton, our producer, is passionate about the play and is buzzing with ideas. The role of my daughter is being played by Emily Woodward (daughter of Edward Woodward and Michele Dotrice). Emily has played my daughter before and we had a hugely enjoyable time working together then. I’m sure it will be the same in this production. Our production team is excellent and everyone is very keen now to start. So if enthusiasm counts for anything - we have that in spades!
Q: I loved your character Marlene in Only Fools and Horses; it must have been great fun playing her! Do you mind still being associated with her?
A: On the contrary - I LOVE being associated with her. She was a warm and funny and delicious character to play in one of the best situation comedies ever written. John Challis and I were lucky enough to get the spin-off series “The Green Green Grass”, so we were able to live the lives of Boycie and Marlene for four more years, with John Sullivan’s brilliant scripts. I would have gone on playing Marlene, very happily, for the rest of my days! But now I greatly look forward to becoming Mrs Kitty Warren.
Christopher Timothy, well-known for his role in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and BBC soap opera ‘Doctors’, is taking on the role of Sir George Croft in the play. The character is an entitled member of the upper class who goes into illicit business with Mrs Warren. Here’s what Christopher had to say about the role:
Q: Had you read the script before taking on the role of Sir George Crofts in this production, Christopher?
A: No, but I seem to remember seeing a black and white TV version of the play when I was a teenager and enjoying it. The only other Bernard Shaw play I’ve done is The Apple Cart at drama school, so I am really looking forward to this.
Q: It was considered a rather daring subject matter in its day. How well do you think the play deals with 19th-century attitudes towards prostitution?
A: What interests me is, when in the play does the audience realise what Mrs Warren’s profession is? and will they ‘get it’ sooner as a modern audience, than they did in the 19th century?
Q: What do you think of your character, and his possibly rather shady business dealings?
A: My character defends and justifies his and Mrs Warren’s involvement, but Shaw clearly disagrees with the reasoning, encouraging the audience to disapprove.
Q: Did you have any reservations about playing the role?
A: I have no reservations- it’s a seriously good part.
Q: Have you performed in Cheltenham and at the Everyman before?
A: Many years ago, my first job at the Everyman was an in-house production of Tom and Viv. I played TS Elliot. Since then I’ve made a couple of visits on tour - the last one was as Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. I am looking forward to my time in Cheltenham and the theatre; the town is a lovely place to be and work.
Q: Have you worked with Sue or any of the other cast before?
A: Sue Holderness and I did a trilogy of Agatha Christie radio plays on stage, set in a radio studio. We read the scripts and all the sound effects were created in full view. It was surprisingly successful and great fun to do.
Q: Where is the play moving to after Cheltenham, Christopher?
A: After Cheltenham we are on tour to Malvern, Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter and a few others.
Mrs Warren’s Profession will run at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from June 19-27, before touring around England. For tickets, visit: www.everymantheatre.org.uk/m-shows/mrs-warrens-profession