Friday, 3 August 2007

Hobsons Choice - Chichester Festival Theatre

Hobsons Choice by Harold Brighouse
Chichester Festival Theatre: 27 July - 1 September
Directed by: Jonathan Church
Music By: Matthew Scott

Reviewed by: Talisker Stuart-Gordon

Hobson’s Choice was originally written in 1915, set in Salford c.1880; this production retains the period costumes and Victorian shop set, adding an old-world charm to a timeless comedy.

The concept of the overbearing father, all mouth and not a lot in the way of trousers, is beautifully portrayed by John Savident, whose bluster continued throughoutHobson’s changing circumstances and added to the amusement of a man whollyunable to see himself as responsible for the consequences of his actions.
There is of course a darker side to such a character, but whilst one isaware of this, it is always firmly in the background and does not disturban otherwise light-hearted performance. Equally, the strong anddetermined Maggie (Carolyn Backhouse) is highly reminiscent of the toughNorthern woman, such as Nora Batty of Last of the Summer Wine. God forbidanyone should argue with her! Her man-management skills are what keeps theaction of the play moving onwards, in fabulous opposition to Hobson’s‘brakes’. Her ability to turn every circumstance to her advantage is suchthat one only wonders it has taken her until the then advanced age of 30to finally do so and get out from under the parental thumb.

Poor Hobson’s dismay when he loses his daughters to marriage (courtesy of Maggie’s machinations) is swiftly followed by glee at no longer being henpecked;when he falls ill he isn’t quite sure whether he is appalled or mightilyrelieved at the doctor ordering Maggie back to look after him. Savidentis remarkably adept at the conflicting emotions and one is left in littledoubt that this is a man who has no idea what he wants apart from his ownway, but doesn’t know what precisely that is until a woman tells him hecan’t have it.

The play feels as if it revolves around Hobson and Maggie, although Maggieherself makes it clear that she wants everyone to think she revolvesaround her husband, the eventually brave but always terrified Mossop(Dylan Charles). However the supporting cast obey Maggie magnificentlyand provide excellent foils to her often raucous determination. Watchingthe sisters Alice (Katharine Kingsley) and Vickey (Annabel Scholey)attempt to wheedle past their irascible father and then get entirelywrapped up in their husbands, who they have only married courtesy ofMaggie’s brilliance, gives a timeless example of the children torn betweenparent and spouse who very definitely have an eye to the financial mainchance; I found that my sympathy with their horror at having to go back to look after a grumpy father was balanced by much amusement at theirunsuccessful attempts to ensure the ultimate reward. How very human!

This play was highly entertaining, and a charmingly timeless comicvignette of family life which one can simply enjoy, or dig into for awealth of meaning and social comment of the period. The production andquality of the acting certainly allows for and indeed encourages both. Ihighly recommend a visit to Chichester Festival Theatre to see this –especially as one could also bring a picnic into the neighbouring park fora quintessentially English summer evening out.

Hobson Choice Runs at Chichester in Rep with Twelfth Night until the 1st September for more information visit

Photos by: Manuel Harlan: Top - Dylan Charles (Willie Mossop), Carolyn Backhouse (Maggie Hobson)
Bottom Carolyn Backhouse (Maggie Hobson), John Savident (Hobson)
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