Hobson's Choice review - June 2016
Shaw clearly has a presence like no other on the Vaudeville stageHarold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice was first shown in London in June 1916, and almost exactly 100 years later, the comedy has stormed back in to the Big Smoke at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. Laughs and cheers echoed around the auditorium during this witty revival, with beloved British actor Martin Shaw playing the title role to perfection, in a classic tale of a man who ultimately has no choice at all.
Set in Salford in the late 1800s, Henry Hobson is a successful boot-maker who has a lot on his hands. Recently widowed, he now has his three daughters to keep happy, who are all becoming ‘uppity’ and feisty as they work for their father for free. Stuck in his middle-class Victorian ways, Hobson wants to marry off the two youngest – Vicky (Gabrielle Dempsey) and Alice (Florence Hall), but little does he know that his ‘old maid’ Maggie (Naomi Frederick) - thirty and apparently past it - is the one he needs to look out for.
Frederick steals the show as Maggie, with her self-assurance, brains and go-getter attitude. After deciding that praised but illiterate boot-maker Willie Mossop (Bryan Dick) is the one who she needs to reel in to break free from her father’s restraints and start her own business, things soon start to fall apart for Henry and his shop, resulting in the old man having to make a Hobson’s Choice he wishes he didn’t have to.
Although Shaw clearly has a presence like no other on the Vaudeville stage, Dick brings in the most laughs with his quivering demeanour as he does his best to defy Miss Maggie’s strong proposition to become Mrs Mossop. He soon blossoms into a man almost as strong as his new wife, however, and their forced relationship at the start seems genuine by the time the curtain closes.
Jonathan Church has brought Hobson’s Choice to life with his impeccable cast - especially with Shaw’s brilliant comic timing which fans of the actor will be delighted with. Simon Higlett’s set design is detailed and authentic as the stage slowly spins from Maggie’s cellar to her father’s boot making workshop in the second act, and the music during the rare scene changes sets the mood.
Once audacious and hilariously daring, now a funny and classic Victorian British play, Hobson’s Choice will not dissatisfy, but may seem a little tired and irrelevant compared to its debut a century ago. See it for Shaw and the stellar line-up of characters and you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by Alice Bzowska.
15 June 2016, Vaudeville Theatre