Monday, 10 February 2014

Hobson's Choice @ Bolton Octagon, 06.02.2014

I once watched a fantastic culturally-specific adaptation of Hobson’s Choice in London a few years ago, which was set in an Indian clothes shop and portrayed by an Asian cast. I didn’t think I would get to watch an equal or better version...and yet, last week in Bolton, I did.

In this Octagon version, as the audience are seating themselves, we see the lasses busy beavering away in the magnificent set of a traditional 1880s shoe shop with its mahogany counters and shoe displays. Soon we meet the forthright and assertive Maggie Hobson (Natalie Grady), the eldest daughter in the Hobson family. She is plain-speaking and no-nonsense as she derides the process of courting, comparing it to a fancy slipper: “all glitter and no use to nobody!”

Maxwell Hutcheon plays widower Henry Hobson (“British, middle-class and proud of it”), who needs his daughter Maggie’s help, but laments his other two daughters’ dress sense and the “gradual increase” in their “uppishness” since their mother died. Attempting to assert control over his daughters, Hobson tires of berating and battling, instead choosing to escape to The MoonRaker for respite – despite it being bad for his health. But will his daughters be able to escape him before it is too late?

Not only is Hobson smarting about his daughters’ “uppishness” but he is also concerned about his workman, Willie Mossop (Michael Shelford), getting “uppish” too when he is praised for his excellent workmanship. The stars of the show are Natalie Grady and Michael Shelford as we watch them slowly and steadily work towards success, and we grow to love the initially abrasive Maggie for her respectful sincerity.

David Thacker’s humorous direction of a splendid cast with their thick Lancashire accents and dialect, along with the references to Salford and Manchester, will resonate well with local audiences in the North West. The audience were highly amused (as evident by the raucous laughter throughout the play) by the witty banter between the characters as they attempt to realise their dreams whilst living out their daily lives. Will the Hobson daughters find the perfect men for perfect marriage? Will the cantankerous Henry Hobson soften in his attitude? That is the question posed at the beginning of the play, and we go along for the ride to see where they will arrive.

A brilliant production bringing Hobson’s Choice back to its original home. An olden times play with touching and timeless themes with which we can still relate.

Words: Sadia Habib


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