Writer: Harold Brighouse
Director: Jonathon Church
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Henry Horatio Hobson has made his choice and joins us at Milton Keynes this week, 2016 marking the centenary of the first UK production of the classic comedy from writer Harold Brighouse. This Theatre Royal Bath production tours just a few theatres nationwide prior to a run in the West End.
Hobson is one of those great comic characters so particular to English drama, a shopkeeper who has made it on his own, a drinker and a mean man in every sense. He dominates his family, following his own rules and whims. It is when his will is challenged by his eldest girl, Maggie, who decides to marry his boot hand, Will Mossop, that the ‘fun’ and the fights begin. Hobson risks losing not only his immense pride but his daughters and even his loyal customers, possibly his business. He must decide…. Hobson’s Choice.
Quasi-national treasure Martin Shaw brings us the eponymous Henry Hobson in an unusual comedy role for him. He is not completely convincing in the part but makes a good stab at it and brings out the comedy well. He seems to grow into the character as the piece develops and is obviously appreciated by the audience. Bryan Dick as Willie Mossop is excellent, both as the hapless, hen-pecked young boot-maker at the start, and as the person he becomes with his wife’s tutelage and support.
It is Naomi Frederick, however, in the role of the daunting and bossy eldest daughter, Maggie Hobson, who steals the show. Her comic timing is superb and she has such presence. She is also dealing with a well-written part, which makes her task much easier. There is real chemistry between Maggie and her hubby and there are some great comedy moments, especially on their wedding night.
Gabrielle Dempsey and Florence Hall, as Vickey and Alice Hobson respectively, provide excellent support and true touches of humour. Christopher Timothy gives a solid performance as Jim Heeler, as one would expect. Ken Drury’s Dr MacFarlane is a great foil to Hobson’s ranting in the last act.
The play works as well now as one could imagine it did all those years ago with its brash northern humour and fabulous one-liners. The second act is fast paced and funny. It is an amazing and brave piece of writing given the strength of the female characters at a time just pre-Suffragettes when women were very much second-class citizens and it describes the class system deftly.
The set is incredible, a cleverly devised wooden structure which revolves and changes from ye olde Victorian shoe shop into Mossop’s cellar and to Hobson’s rudimental living space. So much attention to detail too makes the set a character in itself.
Certainly an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Runs until 12 March 2016 | Image: Nobby Clark