Hobson’s Choice, a slick and delightful play in Cambridge

Hobson's Choice

Hobson's Choice - Credit: Archant

A completely packed house at the Arts Theatre shows that something special is happening. Perhaps it is the starring role by popular TV star Martin Shaw as Henry Hobson or could it be the enduring popularity of this old (one hundred year old) favourite?

Hobson's Choice

Hobson's Choice - Credit: Archant

Hobson’s Choice (meaning of course, no choice at all) is the classic Northern comedy written in 1915 by Salford-born Harold Brighouse, Though a largely forgotten figure, he was a prolific playwright and his most famous comedy sparkles with wonderfully memorable characters, solid story lines and a wealth of richly drawn Northern folk.

It is a finely wrought drama about an old-fashioned bullying father who finds that while he is supping ale with his friends in the pub, time are a-changing especially in terms of women’s roles in the family and workplace.

The scene is Hobson’s family-run boot shop in late Victorian Salford. Shaw dominates the stage as the gruff widower who has effectively left the running of his business to his three unmarried daughters.

While ageing Hobson now spends most of the day in the pub carousing with his old friend Jim (Christopher Timothy), his eldest daughter Maggie, runs the shop with a powerful will, a razor sharp business brain and a cast-iron plan for her own future. Naomi Frederick matches Martin Shaw for sheer theatrical power as the iron lady Maggie.

She is a wonderful creation – the modern woman (1880 style) who is determined to seize control of her life by defying her bellowing dad and marrying Willie Mossop, a humble but gifted boot maker who with Maggie’s bossy control will help them both thrive. Brighouse gives her some great one-liners. Thanks to terrific ensemble acting and a sparky direction ensuring that the pace never lags, the whole evening is a delight.

That sense of fun and engagement is also down to Bryan Dick’s deeply drawn Willie Mossop, hilariously hen pecked but a boy slowly finding his inner man.

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Behind all the fun, the play does have a really interesting point to make; it captures a time of change, the slow emergence of women’s independence from repressive husbands and fathers.

If you are looking for a slick and delightful piece of theatre, a play that will make you laugh out loud and really care about the characters on stage, then really you only have Hobson’s choice.