Writer: Harold Brighouse
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: Malcolm Wallace
Written in 1916 Hobson’s Choice has remained a favourite of audiences and theatre companies alike throughout its 98 year history and with this new co-production between the Bolton Octagon, Oldham Coliseum and New Vic, Newcastle-Under-Lyme it is easy to see why.
Harold Brighouse’s superbly written play tells the tale of Salfordian boot shop owner Henry Hobson, an opinionated middle class father of three equally strong minded daughters, the main protagonist of which is eldest daughter Maggie who knows what she wants and how to get it! Maggie uses her powers of manipulation to secure a husband, shoe maker Willie Mossop, her own business and the marriages of her sisters, but to what cost for Hobson?
A mostly strong supporting cast are complemented by a solid performance from Maxwell Hutcheon as patriarch Henry Hobson, convincingly portraying a stalwart struggling to control his wayward daughters, although he did stumble over his lines on occasion. Natalie Grady gives eldest daughter Maggie Hobson a suitably aggressive air that softens sufficiently enough as the story progresses to show her more vulnerable side in a beautifully poignant moment with Michael Shelford as Willie Mossop at the close of Act 2. Shelford was surely born to play Willie Mossop and somewhat steals the show with a breathtakingly well judged performance as the shoe maker who goes from servant to master in little over a year.
Hobson’s Choice is a strong play and rich enough in character to not require much in the way of set and designer James Cotterill provides a simple but effective design that complements rather than overpowers the action. This is also true of lighting designer Daniella Beattie although there are brief moments where I feel the lighting is slightly too dark.
David Thacker as director keeps the pace up, which is very important in a lengthy play such as this, and ensures the cast use the small performance space to their full advantage. It will be interesting to see how this translates to an end on traditional theatre when the production moves to Oldham.
As a new year treat this production of Hobson’s Choice will be hard to beat. It is an intelligently staged production which is heart-warming and thoroughly deserving of the warm response from the audience on press night.
Photo Ian Tilton |Runs until: Saturday 22February 2014