Hobson's Choice

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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© Johan Persson

Jodie McNee (Maggie)

© Johan Persson

Hannah Britland (Vickey) and Nadia Clifford (Alice)

© Johan Persson

Hannah Britland (Vickey), Mark Benton (Henry Hobson) and Joanna David (Mrs Hepworth)

© Johan Persson

Jodie McNee (Maggie), Hannah Britland (Vickey) and Nadia Clifford (Alice)

© Johan Persson

Jordan Metcalfe (Albert Prosser) and Mark Benton (Henry Hobson)

© Johan Persson

Karl Davies (Willie Mossop) and Jodie McNee (Maggie)

© Johan Persson

Bill Fellows (Jim Heeler)

© Johan Persson

Karl Davies (Willie Mossop), Kate Adler (Ada Figgins) and Jodie McNee (Maggie)

© Johan Persson

Robin Bowerman (Dr MacFarlane) and Mark Benton (Henry Hobson)

© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson

Nadia Fall’s production of Harold Brighouse’s perennially popular comedy is founded on a neat idea. Written in 1915 but set in the 1880s, ‘Hobson’s Choice’ was always a historical drama. Fall has decided to locate her production at a similar distance, in the Salford of the 1960s, when rock ’n’ roll ruled the airwaves, hemlines were rising and, more importantly, gender roles were undergoing a sea change that echoed the one begun almost a century earlier.

The trouble with neat ideas is that they don’t always work in the execution, and so it proves here. Ben Stones’s revolving stage does a lovely job of evoking red-brick Salford and the cabinet-lined interior of the boot shop where Henry Hobson (Mark Benton) employs his three ‘uppish’ daughters as unpaid labour – until the eldest, Maggie (Jodie McNee), decides to take her future into her own hands.

The period atmosphere is spot on: we have short skirts, slicked-back hair, ‘The Twist’. Benton is a forceful comic presence as Hobson, though his performance was a little inconsistent on the night I saw it; and McNee is wonderful as Maggie, combining force-of-nature bossiness with a touching vulnerability. But the ’60s setting doesn’t quite translate. Maggie’s arrangement of her own marriage and future – a substantial proto-feminist gesture for the time when Brighouse was writing – doesn’t seem such a big deal in the mid-twentieth century. If Henry did cut her off, Maggie could surely go out and find another job for herself.

Still, there is much to enjoy here, and a sunny summer’s evening at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, with pigeons swooping over the stage and fairy lights blinking above the bar, is always a treat.

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