Jodie McNee (Maggie)
Hannah Britland (Vickey) and Nadia Clifford (Alice)
Hannah Britland (Vickey), Mark Benton (Henry Hobson) and Joanna David (Mrs Hepworth)
Jodie McNee (Maggie), Hannah Britland (Vickey) and Nadia Clifford (Alice)
Jordan Metcalfe (Albert Prosser) and Mark Benton (Henry Hobson)
Karl Davies (Willie Mossop) and Jodie McNee (Maggie)
Bill Fellows (Jim Heeler)
Karl Davies (Willie Mossop), Kate Adler (Ada Figgins) and Jodie McNee (Maggie)
Robin Bowerman (Dr MacFarlane) and Mark Benton (Henry Hobson)
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.