After a quality start to this summer’s season with a beautifully acted production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre continues its reputation for top notch revivals with this hugely enjoyable take on Harold Brighouse’s tale of family feuding in Salford.
Whereas the original was set in the late Victorian era when its story of uppity women would have tapped into the vein of the growing suffragette movement, director Nadia Fall has had the absolutely inspired idea of setting this version in the early 1960s — another decade that saw a seismic shift in women shaking off male dominance with the introduction of the Pill and equal pay. Like the best light bulb moments, it fits so well you wonder why no one thought of it before.
Henry Horatio Hobson is the owner of a successful shoe shop and boot makers. But while his name may be above the door, the business flourishes thanks to the hard work of his three daughters — particularly the oldest, Maggie — and the skills of the wimpy Willie Mossop closeted away in the basement workshop, with Hobson contenting himself by drinking away the profits at the local hostelry.
The no-nonsense Maggie decides to take the situation in hand. Stung into action by Hobson’s cruel assertion that at thirty years old she’s past her sell-by date and will never find a husband, she sets about planning to wrestle the business away from her father’s control — her plan looking to be made all the easier with Hobson’s love of the sauce taking its toll on his health.
The whole cast here are pretty faultless. Mark Benton brings a wonderful physicality to the part of Hobson. His timing on the comic moments is impeccable and he injects just the right amount of pathos into the later scenes as his character grows more pathetic.
Jodie McNee gives a powerhouse performance as the indefatigable Maggie and Karl Davies portrayal of Willie, the worm that struggles to turn, is a delight.
On a perfect evening in the park, this production is a joy to behold and the use of the Gerry and the Pacemakers hit How Do You Do It in the final scene will leave you with an unexpected lump in the throat.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Hobson’s Choice is playing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 12 July 2014. Click here for tickets.