Hobson's Choice, Harold Brighouse's sparky comedy about one masterful, ambitious woman, is revived 100 years after its premiere. It's a favourite, regularly revived period drama. This version is the inaugural show from new West End production company helmed by Jonathan Church, the director who transformed Chichester Festival Theatre from average regional venue to a powerhouse with an international reputation for top quality theatre.
Set in a Salford shoe shop in 1880, the play begins with 'middle class and proud of it' old soak of a business man Henry Hobson (Martin Shaw) bemoaning the 'uppishness' of his three grown up daughters. But while he dismisses the oldest, Maggie (Naomi Frederick), as an 'old maid' she is master-minding her own fortune. She pushes gormless but gifted bootmaker Willy Mossup into a tactical marriage and creates an empire to rival her father's. Then, as Hobson slides into an alcoholic slump, the power couple present him with a choice.
Brighouse's play is a lively demonstration against the undermining women or working classes. Back in 1916 it was boundary-breaking, but to modern audience is an amusing, if unsubtle, battle of the sexes. The production is slick and faithful to the time period, with an almost nostalgic display of bussels and elaborate sideburns. It begins with lively comedy to compliment the set-piece nature of the plot. Towards the end of the second half, when a defeated Hobson holds court from his arm chair, the show begins to lag.
Martin Shaw gives a spritely performance as the inebriated Hobson (though his Lancashire diction slips in the slurring) and his stubborn demise is brought to life with heart. Supporting performances are strong all round but, fittingly given the play's subject matter, it is Naomi Frederick who steals the show as Maggie. She captures the charisma and formidable ambition but also shines with tenderness, showing the match with Mossup through the lens of a woman in love as much as a business woman.
|What||Hobson's Choice, Vaudeville Theatre review|
404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH | MAP
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
08 Jun 16 – 10 Sep 16, 7:30 PM – 9:45 PM
|Website||Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|