Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice has proved itself a highly adaptable play yet again in this production by Matthew Townshend. Updated to Salford,1958, a versatility rises out of the universal themes addressed within: male patriarchy, the rights of women to have agency over their future and the insuppressible rebelliousness of the younger generation, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor.
Henry Hobson, played by John D Collins, gives a stomping performance of a father determined to control his offspring for his own self-serving needs. Pinstriped and officious, he enters scenes barking orders in an attempt to exert control over the people and the spaces they occupy, and with space being limited, we feel his oppressiveness. However, Collins exposes Henry’s gradual defeat when faced with his eldest daughter, Maggie, who has a ‘head for business’. So growl as he might, Henry’s obnoxiousness is more than challenged by her.
Maggie, played by Rhiannon Sommers, gives a superb performance as a straight-talking woman with a destination in sight, at one point telling her sexist father, “You’ve had twenty years free labour – now you’ll pay me”.
Maggie allows us to see that behind the fairy tale of marriage and a home, women can have agency over their lives. She is not impressed by hearts and flowers, they won’t earn her a business, instead she relies on practicality. Sailing forth on her journey to achieving success she sets her sights on William Mossop.
William has a skill for boot making, and thus we see convention turned on its head as Maggie, ‘instructs’ Will to marry her. His value as her groom stems from his boot making skills, and as the customers rate Will’s boots very highly, he’s the perfect asset as a business partner and husband rolled into one.
Michael Brown does justice to the role of a man who hardly knows how to, excuse the pun, tie his own boot laces. He cleverly demonstrates Mossop’s vulnerability as he meanders indecisively through scenes, making himself perfect bait for Maggie’s business acumen. Under his wife’s instruction, Will gains momentum, leading her to declare proudly, “You’re the man I made you”.
Younger sisters Alice Hobson, played by Greta Harwood, and Vickey Hobson, played by Kelly Aaron, lend the play a youthful energy and a sense of lightness that is much needed to counter the weightier issue of patriarchy that the play deals with. The sisters are not remotely interested in running the shoe shop but numbly close down when expected to do so, but by snatching moments to dance to the emerging rock ’n’ roll they allow us an insight into their fleeting moments of liberation and expression before they enter married life. Both actors do a fine job of exposing the vitality of youth with lacklustre disinterest. They would happily turn their backs on the flock wallpaper representative of their father’s Victorian values.
Music, provided by, Ben Goble and the Lockerbillies took us back to the 50s and the freedom from restraint that was, for some, possible. So whilst Elvis was deemed a threat to decency, we could see the sisters’ dancing as a transformative moment for them too.
Hobson’s Choice is a delightful play and well worth seeing.
Hobson’s Choice is on at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, SE4 2DH until 15th September. Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Admission: £16, £13 concessions. Phone: 07984 415572
Photos by Peter Clark