Hobson's Choice Vaudeville Theatre 2016
Very, very old-fashioned, but respectfully and respectably done.
Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice, set in Greater Manchester's Salford in 1880 and originally premiered in 1916, is a play wears its heart on its sleeve and its art even in its title, which has come to colloquially refer to being offered a choice where there is none at all: where you're being invited to take it or leave it.
It's impossible to describe what Hobson's choice here is without offering a spoiler, but suffice to say that the cantankerous, drunken father of three adult daughters will eventually get his comeuppance as they finally assert their independence.
Meanwhile London audiences have a choice of their own to make whether to see Hobson's Choice, and in fact you could take it or leave it yourself. It is a light, bright summer entertainment -- very, very old-fashioned, but respectfully and respectably done, without any radical reinventions (like the play's last London outing at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in 2014, when its action was transposed to the 1960s).
Jonathan Church -- in his final run as artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre but not directing anything new there this year himself -- has set up an independent theatre company the Jonathan Church Company as a platform for his own directorial work, and this co-production with Bath Theatre Royal (where it originated in March) is its first outing. It's very much in the vein of a Chichester show, star-led and traditional, but also satisfying. The devil, as ever, is in the detail, and Church animates it with feeling and colour, even as designer Simon Higlett represents the dour Salford boot-maker's shop with a stark, dark severity. That's also the prevailing colour of Martin Shaw's performance as the bullying alcoholic patriarch Hobson. Refreshingly, the actor doesn't court likability.
There's a far more lovable turn from Bryan Dick who, as the shop's prize boot maker Willie Mossop, finds himself brow-beaten into marital submission by Naomi Frederick as the eldest daughter Maggie Hobson, apparently left on the shelf at the age of 30. This comedy has now been on the repertory shelves for exactly one hundred years, and it is a pleasure to welcome it back to the West End.
"Brighouse’s play may be creaking, but Church proves it’s good for a few more outings yet."
Clare Allfree for Daily Telegraph
"As the bibulous bully of the title, Martin Shaw is virtuosic and palpably practised; it looks as if he’s acting."
Dominic Maxwell for The Times