There's always a temptation, of course, to review the weather at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, as much as the show. And certainly there's always the dark dread of what the skies might have lined up for you whenever you go. I'm relieved to report that the press night for Hobson's Choice turned into a lovely, mercifully dry and crisp evening (though the rustling of the trees meant that I was happy that speech is amplified here).
But even more than that, I'm happy to report that its revival of that old repertory warhorse Hobson's Choice turns out to be a sunny delight from first to last, even as the play and the evening both gradually darken into a poignant study of alcoholism and the care responsibilities of grown-up children to their parents.
Harold Brighouse's play is therefore both hilarious and thoughtful, and director Nadia Fall brings gusto and grit to both aspects. She has also had the inspired idea to update it from the 1880s, where it was originally set, to the 1960s. It means that the play isn't a dusty relic of sexual politics, but a living, breathing organism from a time of rapid change, and as such was well ahead of its time to recognise the shift in women's roles, as represented here by three dutiful daughters of a shoemaker who finds that the boot is on the other foot when they out-manoeuvre him both in the running of the business and their own lives.
Fall may owe a bit of a debt to the National's One Man, Two Guvnors in anchoring the play in the 60s, but I'm not complaining since it means stylish costumes, smart movement and performances of faultless period charm. As the cast shimmy and twist to Jack Murphy's exhilarating movement and Mark Benton's Henry Hobson belts out 'That's Life', they're having fun and so do we.
And Fall's perfectly cast production is vibrantly led by Mark Benton's imposing Henry, with Jodie McNee both piercing and practical as his eldest daughter Maggie -- 30 and apparently already on the shelf -- who makes her own bid for freedom by marrying the assistant boot-maker Willie Mossop (Karl Davies). NcNee is a serious star in the making, and it is delightful to discover blossoming here after steadily working through the ranks at the RSC, Manchester's Royal Exchange and London's Arcola Theatre.
This is a proper summer's treat. Let's hope the weather holds for it.
"One day it would be good to see Brighouse's play restored to its original 1880's setting, but Fall's update, for all its anachronisms, offers a perfectly pleasant night out."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Nadia Fall's bright, brisk production makes Harold Brighouse's 1915 play feel wonderfully fresh."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard