Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

A woman of substance

Felicity Kendal tells a surprised Mary Wakefield of her admiration for Mrs Warren

Felicity Kendal tells a surprised Mary Wakefield of her admiration for Mrs Warren

From the moment Mrs Warren bustles in halfway through Act I of Mrs Warren’s Profession, she’s clearly an excellent sort. ‘A genial and presentable old blackguard of a woman,’ says George Bernard Shaw fondly of his heroine. And she is a heroine, though she’s also a brothel-keeper as compromised as St Joan is righteous.

I’ve only read the play, not seen it, but I’m also very fond of Mrs Warren, and, as I walk to the Comedy Theatre to meet Felicity Kendal, I begin to worry. Kendal playing Mrs Warren in the West End? The more I think about it, the less suitable it seems. Surely Felicity is winsome and twee; Mrs W is a business-like old pimp. How can that work? Would Mrs Warren even want Kendal on her books, I wonder, as I climb the carpeted stairs to the theatre’s upper balcony. But as soon as I see her, I know I’ve made a mistake.

There’s Felicity, tiny in tight-black leather, standing hand on hip. She’s at the very top of a vertiginous swoop of seats, glancing down at me across rows F to D, a shrewd look, not unfriendly but appraising. It’s just the sort of once-over Mrs Warren might give a girl, and I realise I’ve committed the elementary error of confusing Kendal with her character in The Good Life.

A few minutes later we’re sitting knee to knee in row A. Felicity talks about the play while I make a mental list of all the various ways in which she differs from Barbara Good. She’s not kittenish at all, at least not with me: she’s poised, self-assured, immaculate. She’s 63 now, but looks a decade younger.

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