Mrs. Warren (Erin Ormond) makes her point with Frank Gardner (Julien Galipeau) in Chemainus Theatre Festival’s production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Hypocrisy and the world’s oldest profession

Chemainus Theatre stages Shaw’s biting look at society that director says is just as relevant today

Mrs. Warren’s Profession may be the world’s oldest profession but George Bernard Shaw’s controversial play packs the same punch today as it did when it was released more than 100 years ago.

Directing Mrs. Warren’s Profession has given Heather Cant even more perspective on a play she knows well.

“I’ve seen the play in a number of different theatres,” she said. “I’ve read the play before. Because this is a real old play, there’s a lot of pre-conceived notions we have about it.”

That created some challenges for her in the direction, but the truth is the more things have changed the more they’ve stayed the same.

“Shaw really upset the apple cart,” noted Cant. “He was trying very hard in his way to express really big ideas with hypocrisies in the world, how society treated women.”

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The play was first published in 1898 and immediately banned from public performance. It wasn’t performed until 1902 due to government censorship of its subject matter.

“As a woman, I feel like I have a real deep relationship with this play and I feel I shouldn’t have a deep relationship with this play. It’s 125 years later and it’s wrong we haven’t made any progress.

“He really upset people and he didn’t want to talk about it and here we are all this time later and we don’t want to talk about it.”

Shaw utilizes a unique blend of humour, sprinkled with biting social commentary.

“That’s the brilliance of Shaw,” stressed Cant. “That’s how he made, in his day, these topics palatable is to make it funny.”

The context of the play has been advanced somewhat into the 1920s art deco period, 30 years beyond the time when Shaw wrote it.

“I wanted it to exist similar to how things are now,” said Cant.

Mrs. Warren manages a flourishing business to fund her daughter Vivie’s education at the finest boarding schools and universities while keeping her profession as a ‘Madam’ a secret. Vivie returns home to acquaint herself with her mother for the first time and demands to know her mother’s secret but is unprepared to hear it. She challenges her mother in a two-woman battle of ideas between upper-class expectations and lower-class realities.

Mrs. Warren’s position is poverty and a society condoning it constitutes true immorality while Vivie recognizes her mother’s courage, but grapples with her ongoing involvement in the business.

The cast includes: Tariq Leslie as Mr. Praed, Martha Ansfield-Scrase as Vivie Warren, Erin Ormond as Mrs. Kitty Warren, Declan O’Reilly as Sir George Crofts, Julien Galipeau as Frank Gardner and Stephen Aberle as Reverend Samuel Gardner.

ant relished the opportunity to direct the performance in her first direct involvement in a Chemainus Theatre production.

“I’ve been here quite a few times as a patron and lots of colleagues and friends have worked here over the years,” said Cant, who’s been based mainly in Kamloops since her teenage years and worked all across Canada.

“I wear many hats, do many different kinds of things,” she added.

Cant began her career in the theatre as an actor, but evolved into roles as a producer and director.

“When I was young, I always knew I wanted to be a director, but I didn’t feel like I was ready,” she conceded. “I felt I needed to grow my skill-set.”

Cant did exactly that and now feels she has a wealth of experience to offer in a variety of different ways as an artist and a human.

As soon as the production hits the stage, Cant’s job will be done and she’ll be off to Calgary for her next adventure after the opening to work on obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in directing at the University of Calgary.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession goes on stage at the Chemainus Theatre Festival Sept. 13 to Oct. 5.

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