When George Bernard Shaw wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession – a comedic classic opening July 20 at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth – it took him eight years before he was able to arrange a private staging of the play, and an additional 20 years before it was first publicly performed in London.
The play caused a worldwide stir, from being banned in England to getting shut down in New Haven and New York City. The show’s first performers, producers and director were subject to arrest warrants because the authorities considered the play too dangerous for public eyes.
This remarkable story of the gradual reveal of a family secret – the source of Mrs. Warren’s wealth – introduces some of the most memorable comic characters Shaw ever created, from the dastardly Crofts to the indecisive Rev. Gardner. When Warren’s daughter Vivie begins to understand the secret, it sets up the stage for a classic mother-daughter row without parallel.
While the sensibilities of an earlier time kept the play from public view, it remains incredibly timely and in tune with today’s #MeToo moment, with Shaw writing that this is “a play for women; it was written for women; it has been performed and produced mainly through the determination of women, and not one of these women had any inducement to support it except their belief in the timeliness and the power of the lesson the play teaches.”
Appearing in the play are some of Canada’s most recognizable stage and screen performers. Catherine McNally (Mrs. Warren), recipient of the prestigious Christopher Plummer Award, is frequently seen on TV, including The Handmaids Tale, Anne (Netflix), Schitts Creek, Cardinal, Charming Christmas, and Murdoch Mysteries. Anna Burkholder, playing Vivie, is a Festival favourite who returns from Montreal after stellar appearanaces here in An Inspector Calls and Candida.
Also featured are performer/writer Douglas Hughes (a veteran of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals), Nicholas Rice (frequently seen in this area at Thousand Islands Playhouse and St. Lawrence Shakespeare), Colin Legge (who regularly performs across Canada, the US, and UK), and Kyle Orzechs (who toured in My Mother’s, Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, the first musical by the team responsible for the current Broadway smash hit, Come From Away).
Mrs. Warren’s Profession, which opens July 20, is one of four shows playing during July at the Festival. Among them are two new historic theatrical walking plays. This year features family-friendly, hour-long tales of Perth during the turbulent war years of the 1940s. In the touching morning play, The Prisoner of Petawawa (Wed. to Sun. at 11 am), the budding promise of young love runs into the reality of a battle-scarred soldier, while the discovery of a new town resident reveals an unsavoury part of Canadian history. The Lonely Ghosts Walk (Thurs. & Fri at 7 pm) is a musical and comedic look at the challenges and tribulations faced by British war brides adjusting to a new life in rural Perth. Far From Home is a reminder of both the contributions made by – and the obstacles often put in the way of – successive generations of immigrants to Perth.
Both walking plays begin at Matheson House Museum, 11 Gore Street East. CTF ticket holders receive 20% off ticket prices.
The inaugural Classic Dinner Theatre at Michael’s Table has proven hugely popular, with all shows sold out for the summer. However, the Festival is taking names for a waiting list in the event of any cancellations.
Next month, the Festival’s final show of the mainstage season opens with the mystery thriller Angel Street (aka Gaslight), a cat-and-mouse struggle of psychological warfare sparked by an unsolved murder.
Tickets to the Festival are available at 1-877-283-1283 or classictheatre.ca