Robert Tanitch Reviews Hobson’s Choice at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London
Harold Brighouse’s comedy is regularly revived and rightly so. Of all the plays of the Manchester School of sentimental realism, it is the most enduring and best loved.
Interestingly, back at the beginning of the 20th century, all the London theatre managers turned it down. They were automatically prejudiced against regional writers and it wasn’t staged in the West End until 1916 and only after it had been a big success in New York the previous year.
Brighouse (1882-1958), born in Salford, set Hobson’s Choice in Salford and put it back in time to the 1880s. Director Nadia Fall has brought it forward to the 1960’s, the era of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, and added songs by Frank Sinatra and The Beatles and has the youngsters swinging away.
The play belongs in the 1880’s. The updating is unnecessary and jars. But such is the charm of the play and the actors in the three leading roles are so good that an evening in the open air theatre on a balmy summer’s night is very enjoyable.
Maggie Hobson (Jodie McNee), who works at her father’s boot shop, is 30-years-old. She decides that there is only one thing to be done if she is not to remain on the shelf for the rest of her life. She will have to marry Willie Mossop, her father’s master boot-maker.
She reckons that with her brains and his hands they will make an unbeatable commercial team if they run their own boot shop. So she proposes and Mossop has no say in the matter. Maggie is a bossy, no-nonsense sort of woman and she’s used to ordering people about and getting her own way. If there is a funnier one-way courtship in British theatre, please let me know
Mossop (Karl Davies), shy, awkward, unassuming, grows in maturity convincingly under her tutelage. Meanwhile, her father (Mark Benton), a blustering windbag bully, full of self-pity and suffering from chronic alcoholism, finds the tables are turned on him and that his youngest daughters are behaving like Goneril and Regan in King Lear.
I wish somebody would give Harold Brighouse’ Zack a slap-up London production. Written in 1920 it is regularly revived in Manchester but it has not been seen in London since the 1920’s.