A mother-daughter drama

Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw – soon to grace the stage at Theatre Royal Bath – focuses on the dynamic between a mother and daughter, as one discovers an ‘unacceptable’ truth about the other. Cue Caroline Quentin and her daughter Rose, bringing a real-life interpretation to the stage. Melissa Blease chats to Caroline to find out more…

Men Behaving Badly, Jonathan Creek, Doc Martin. Masha in Chekhov’s Seagull, Fanny Hill in April De Angelis’ reimagined version of the classic, Richard Bean’s Mrs Malaprop. Blue Murder, Bridgerton,

The Lazarus Project – we’re just about touching the tip of the iceberg that is much-loved British actor Caroline Quentin’s impressively diverse CV, and we haven’t even got around to her TV series presenting credits, most notably Cornwall with Caroline Quentin, A Passage Through India and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes.

Crikey, Caroline! Do you ever stop working? “I know, it’s quite ridiculous!” she laughs. “Please do feel free to remind me what I’ve actually done – I tend to forget to keep up with myself!”.

Caroline is talking to me from her home in Tiverton, Devon, from which she’s temporarily due to relocate to Bath to bring one of George Bernard Shaw’s most fascinating, complex characters to dazzling leading lady heights at the Theatre Royal in November. But before we start discussing Mrs Warren’s Profession in more detail, I do indeed remind Caroline – who, by the way, is possibly the fastest-talking woman I’ve yet to encounter – of her glittering career to date, and ask her to take a breath to consider her personal highlights from that career so far.

“Of everything I do and have done, I can definitely say that I like being live on stage the best,” she says. “I like hearing an audience. I like being able to see them, smell their perfume or aftershave, be in touch with them; I really love that. But of course, Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek were definite highlights of my TV career and, most recently, doing The Lazarus Project has been a big thrill for me too; working with lots of groovy young actors is already on my highlights list. I really enjoy my presenting work as well, though: travelling the world looking at the world’s most incredible houses for The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes – what’s not to like about that?”

Indeed. But home is where the heart is – and right here, right now, I can’t imagine that there’s anything for us (and Caroline) not to like about her forthcoming Bath residence. How does Caroline feel about it?

When Rose did her first school play at around six years old, my mum turned to me and said, ‘oh God, we’ve got another one!’ ”

“I can’t wait!”, says the ‘new’ Mrs Warren. “It is, quite simply, an extraordinary play. My character has raised her daughter with money that she earned through what, at the time of writing, was referred to as ‘ill-gotten gains’ – to put it in modern parlance, working in the sex industry as a sex worker. Shaw wrote the play in 1893 and it was first performed in London in 1902, but for this revival we’re setting it a nice, neat century ago. Back then, social mores and public opinion dictated that what Mrs Warren did to earn a crust would have made her distinctly persona non grata in most circles. But she made good money and was very good at what she did; she’s a woman in charge of her own destiny and her own very good income. She’s also given her daughter Vivie – who was raised in England while her mum was working in Europe – a fantastically good education; she’s been to Newnham College in Cambridge which had only been founded for around 20 years when the play was written, and she’s a very, very bright girl. But of course, Vivie fiercely disapproves of how her mother earned her income… and there’s far more to the drama than that. But basically, the play is about hypocrisy, and the status (or otherwise) of sex workers, and how society in general treated autonomous women – remember, women weren’t even granted the same voting rights as men until 1928. Shaw writes so intelligently about relationships, and women, and the personal, and the political, and the very close links between all those strands. The writing is extraordinary, and feels incredibly modern; it crackles, it’s sparkly, it’s exciting.”

To add yet more crackle, sparkle, and excitement to a play that Caroline guarantees will stimulate and refresh audiences (“we all know that feeling of going to theatre and going, ‘oh my God, I’ll never get those three hours back’, don’t we?” she says; “well this definitely isn’t one of those!), Caroline will be playing opposite her real-life daughter Rose, bringing extra-added complexity to an already super-dynamic mother/daughter drama.

“We’ve got Simon Shepherd in this production, and Matthew Cottle too – a brilliant, really good team of people to work with,” says Caroline. “But casting Rose in the role of Vivie was Theatre Royal Bath Director Danny Moar’s genius idea. I don’t think the roles have ever been played by a real-life mother and daughter before, so it’s going to be fascinating on many levels. It’ll be quite funny, and incredibly moving too; it’s such a well-constructed drama. But the added dimension of knowing that the two main characters actually are mother and daughter is going to put a whole new spin on it.”

Above: Caroline Quentin as Mrs Warren and Rose Quentin as Vivie | Image © Hugo Glendinning

But how does that real-life connection impact on working together professionally? “Actually, it’s been really good fun so far!”, says Caroline. “Rose and I don’t live together, but we had our first read-through when she was staying with me. My son William was on the book for us – it was like a family cottage industry! It’s really interesting because, unlike working with actors that you’ve never met before, you can be absolutely honest and say, no, you’ve messed that up, or that’s not right – it’s all very straightforward, and there’s a real shorthand which can be fantastically helpful. But Rose and I are very close anyway and, thank God, she’s a really good actor. I’m massively proud of her, and she’s been proud of me since she was a weeny little girl. But we’re not afraid to challenge each other privately, professionally, socially, or even when it comes to day-to-day things, like fashion; we really do admire each other, and I think we’re very lucky to have that kind of relationship.”

But did Caroline want to put her daughter on the stage? “I didn’t have a choice!,” she laughs. “When Rose did her first school play at around six years old, my mum turned to me and said, ‘oh God, we’ve got another one!’ She was just amazing, and there was never a question about which direction she was heading in. Today, Rose can sing, and she can dance, and she’s a music scholar who can read music properly, so she’ll always work; in acting world, the bigger your skill set, the more chance you’ve got of getting a gig. She’s only 22 and so far, she’s doing better than alright. My son William, however – he has no desire to follow my lead; he’s about to go to Leeds University to study politics and theology. I’m lucky, and I’m very blessed, to have really, really nice kids.”

From our chat, it’s clear that Caroline feels lucky to have our own really nice little city on her doorstep (well, not that far from her Tiverton home) too. “I absolutely love Bath, and the city has personal connections for me too: my parents Freddie and Katie met there, during the war,” she says. “As for the Theatre Royal – well, it has to be one of the most beautiful theatres in the world; it’s gorgeous, and wonderful, and absolutely perfect for Mrs Warren’s Profession. I’m finding the Deborah Warner season at the Ustinov fascinating, too; I’m a huge fan of Warner’s work and I’m really hoping to catch some of her productions while I’m in Bath.”

In Mrs Warren’s Profession, one of Caroline/Mrs Warren’s most powerful lines goes like this: “Do you think I did what I did because I like it, or thought it right?” To take that line totally out of context (sorry, Mr Shaw), it’s clear that, had Caroline turned that question on me at the start of our interview when discussing her CV, I’d say yes for sure: she clearly does what she does – and has done all that she’s done – because she likes it and made it very right, every step of the way. Ms Quentin’s profession is working out very well indeed.

Mrs Warren’s Profession is at Theatre Royal Bath from 9–19 November; theatreroyal.org.uk