Hobson’s Choice

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Nadia Fall’s absorbing production of Hobson’s Choice at the Open Air Theatre.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/35090/landscape_large.jpg?1403788763It is surprising how fresh and timeless a classic comedy can feel in the right hands and it is certainly the case with Nadia Fall’s absorbing production of Harold Brighouse’s astute microcosm of domestic turmoil and industrial relations in Lancashire in Hobson’s Choice, which is being staged in the delightful surroundings of the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.

Originally set in the 1880s and written in 1915, the story has been updated to the 1960s. Domineering paterfamilias Henry Hobson runs a boot-shop in Manchester, relying on his three unpaid daughters to so all the work while he drinks and throws his weight around. However when his eldest daughter Maggie decides to marry Hobson’s timid but talented shoe-making apprentice Willie Mossop in a sheer act of desperation, after being branded an ‘old maid’ by her younger sisters, the tide begins to turn.

What starts out as a marriage of convenience soon becomes a perfect partnership of love and business. Maggie returns with her husband Willie within a year to take over Hobson’s shop, now a failing concern with a sick owner all those years of indulgence having taken their toll. Maggie has educated Willie who has become sensible enough to encourage his belief in himself by demanding respect from her snobbish sisters. Indeed these two undervalued people – Maggie and Willie – ensure the boot is now firmly on the other foot.

This is a smart, witty comedy, peppered with sharp one liners about class and status and provides an illuminating insight into human nature, our strengths and weaknesses. It also offers a clever, updated comic version of King Lear-Hobson neglects the one daughter Maggie who actually cares about him and upon whom he relies utterly but whom he has written off as unmarriageable. At which point a lightweight play becomes imbued with real heart and glimpses of emotion.

Ben Stones’s set and costume design evokes the atmosphere and period beautifully and this further enhanced by the recurring use of the song “That’s Life” and ‘How Do You Do It?’ which manage to set just the right tone for the piece.

Director Nadia Fall elicits excellent performances from her sterling cast. Mark Benton not only manages to make the alcoholic Henry Hobson likeable but also makes us care for him, while Jodie McNee steals every scene she is in as the no-nonsense plain-speaking Maggie, the matriarchal force behind the family. Karl Davies delightfully portrays the blossoming of Willie from long-suffering underling to independent man of means. Strong support is given by Hannah Britland and Nadia Clifford as Hobson’s two callous younger siblings who refuse to come to their father’s aid when it is most needed and Robin Bowerman as the doctor who offers Hobson a cure to his ills, which he initially refuses but is forced to accept.

This is a small gem of a comedy which makes an ideal choice for balmy summer evening.

Runs until July 12

Box office: 0844 826 4242

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