THEATRE: Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw,

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The Independent Culture
Mrs Warren's Profession

by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Neil Bartlett. Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 (0181-741 2311)

Other than great writing, is there a link between Round the Horne and George Bernard Shaw? The answer, of course, is "yes". One memorable sketch gave us the lyric, (sung to the tune of "Baby Face"), "Bernard Shaw/ I love you more and more and more and more/ I like the way you eat your carrots raw ..."

Director Neil Bartlett has been unable to tempt any past members of that illustrious ensemble to work with him on his revival of Shaw's - probably because, alas, most of them are no longer with us (although the indomitable Betty Marsden is still very much alive and kicking) - but that doesn't mean he's bereft of talent. His cast includes the excellent Neil Stacey, Catherine Cusack and, in the title role, Maggie Steed. Millions of TV viewers know her as Richard Griffiths's long-suffering wife in the BBC's perfectly cooked Sunday-night fare, Pie in the Sky, not to mention everything from Shine on Harvey Moon to Lipstick on Your Collar, back to igniting the damp squib of Intimate Contact, British TV's first attempt at an Aids drama in which she turned behaving badly into an art form.

When not dominating our screens, Steed has been pursuing a bold theatre career thank you very much, which has taken her from Edward Bond to Much Ado About Nothing. Four years ago, she worked with Bartlett for the first time in his riotously funny version of Marivaux's The Game of Love and Chance, and she's clearly delighted to be back with him again.

"It's different. We know each other this time so we have this fantastic shorthand." As for Shaw's reputation for treating his characters like puppets, she's having none of it. She's happily engrossed in a play considered so scandalous in its day, it was banned for 30 years. It was finally presented in the Twenties, which is where Bartlett has decided to set it. Steed points to two excellent reasons for the update. One, the era seems much closer to our sensibilities. Two, "it frees us from worrying what we're doing with our bustles". See: it's not all high-flown sentiment in theatre these days.


Timothy West opens on Monday as Falstaff,

surrogate father to Prince Hal played by real-life son Sam, in Henry IV Parts One & Two. Why didn't they go for broke and get in Mum (Prunella Scales) as Mistress Quickly?

Lyceum Theatre, Crewe (01270 537333)