2015 marked the one hundredth anniversary of Harold Brighouse’s most successful play – the classic comedy Hobson’s Choice, which was also made into a film with Charles Laughton in the title role. Jonathan Church’s traditional production is a delightful revival of the classic play starring Martin Shaw as Henry Hobson.
Jonathan Church does not attempt to modernise the play, his production is firmly set in 1880s Salford with an elaborate design by Simon Higlett, using the revolving stage to full effect. Intertitles are projected onto the curtain, informing the audience of the time and place of the upcoming scenes, which gives the performance a nostalgic touch.
Henry Hobson is a misogynistic tyrant who expects to be obeyed by his three daughters. The old miser refuses to pay any dowry because he wants to keep his daughters working in his shoe shop for free. He is not worried that Maggie will leave him, who is managing the shop whilst he is away “on business”, because at 30 he considers her an old maid. When esteemed customer Mrs Hepworth returns to the shop to meet the man who made her excellent boots, Maggie decides to marry the talented boot-maker to escape from her father’s clutches.
Regrettably, the production misses out on the darker aspects of the protagonist as he does not seem to frighten his daughters, he is more of a nuisance that they have to cope with until they can get married and move up, leaving their uncouth father behind. It comes rather of a surprise when he pulls out his belt to hand out some punishment later in the play. I suppose the decision of softening the character was made to enhance the comedy.
Although the production seems somewhat dated and the story predictable, it is still a charming period piece featuring an impressive ensemble, most of all Martin Shaw as the blustering drunkard Hobson. Naomi Frederick’s Maggie gives the play a proto-feminist touch as she is the mover and shaker of the story, setting things in motion by opening up a rival shop with the meek and virginal boot-maker Willie Mossop, convincingly played by Bryan Dick.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Hobson’s Choice is playing at Vaudeville Theatre until 10th September 2016