Saturday, 9 June 2018

Hobson's Choice - Salford Arts Theatre, Salford.

The phrase 'to have Hobson's choice' meaning that there isn't a choice, amply exemplified by Henry Ford's declaration that you can have 'any colour as long as it's black', does not, as is sometimes mistakenly thought, come from this play; conversely the play was written to exemplify the already well known phrase.

Written in 1915 and first produced in 1916, it tells the story of a certain middle class shoe-shop owner, the widower Mr. Hobson and his three daughters whom he employs, unpaid, to tend his shop whilst he enjoys the fruits of their labours at the local ale house. Over the years certain parallels and study has been set up to try and make (perhaps false or unjustified) parallels with both Cinderella and King Lear inasmuch as all three stories see a tyrannical controlling figure, display the foolishness of such tyranny, and all three have three unmarried daughters desperate to be wed and find love. In this play though it is the eldest daughter, Maggie, who is the driving force of the play as her influence, ideas, and her cunning and wile control her ambition, overpower and eventually drown her father completely. the two other sisters having 'Hobson's Choice' get swept along in her forceful tidal wave of ambition, and as well as everything else, this play proves that not all women were weak-minded and subjugated, and it was women such as Maggie who helped to make women's suffrage the success it was.

The staging this evening was interesting. Set in a large thrust format but wit the thrust section only used for the third scene, it did seem odd and somewhat unnecessary. However, the set and costumes on the whole were good and attention to period hairstyles had been made. The lighting was a little insufficient, with large areas of the stage - especially the forestage being in comparative blackout when ostensibly lit. I think is probably due to the fact that the theatre was stretching a finite resource beyond its capability.  

The other thing I noticed this evening too was the distinct lack of pace throughout. I saw the show, admittedly, on a preview evening, so hopefully the urgency will have picked itself up and the whole will flow smoother and more seamlessly.

For a play these days it requires a rather large cast, and this is perhaps why, apart from the excellently crafted script, that is so popular with amateur societies. I have never before seen a professional company tackle this play; nor have I ever seen a production of it performed on home ground so to speak either. The play being set only a few metres away from the theatre. In general the castings were excellent and the characterisations brought out with skill. Scott Berry' s haughty 'holier-than-thou' Mr. Hobson was well placed and nicely nuanced. I would have liked to have seen a little more bumptiousness at the beginning and perhaps a more obvious visual 'hint' at the end that alcoholism was the cause of his 'illness' and not just general malaise, but all in all it was an intelligently crafted performance. His three daughters were excellently chosen. The younger, more naive, and giddier Alice (Elka Lee Green) and Vickey (Connie James) worked excellently against the powerful stubbornness of the eldest daughter Maggie (Lyndsay Fielding). In a world where actresses are constantly bemoaning the lack of good, feisty, worthy, female roles, they need not look further. Harold Brighouse has supplied us with three right here.

Shop floor lad Willie Mossop (Joseph Walsh) gets the shock of his life when Maggie hears of his skill at boot-making and decides to marry him in order to further her ambition and status in life. His change from simpleton to gentleman was excellently measured and played with ease and skill. This performance balanced nicely between the more well-to-do suitors to Alice and Vickey, Freddy Beenstock (Paul Worrall) and Albert Prosser (Christopher Wollaton) and the shop floor steward 'Tubby' Wadlow (Steve Cain).

Directed by Roni Ellis - who also played the small role of Mrs. Hepworth with a rather Lady Bracknell-ish air, - it was a solid and faithful production, but I feel there could have been a tad more comedy found within the dialogue. It became rather wordy and 'worthy' at times when I felt perhaps it should have been kept a bit lighter; we needed to laugh a bit more. Again, though this could be put down to the fact that this was only a preview performance and the cast needed to 'bed-in' a little first.

The play has the potential of being an excellent and faithful production of Brighouse's Salford masterpiece, and with a little more pace and jollity, this will happen.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 7/6/18

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