Theatre review: Hobson’s Choice at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
PUBLISHED: 06:45 26 June 2014
Hobson’s Choice opens with a carousing Henry Hobson returning home after a morning at the pub, singing with increasing gusto until the moment he steps through the door of his Salford shoe shop. Instantly the volume and the joy peter out and he squares up to his three daughters, busily maintaining the store in their smart 1960s shop overalls.
Led by the doughty and wily Maggie, 30, unwed, and yet unbowed, we know instantly that the shop is a battlefield. The question is this: is the combined weight of his three daughters equal to the weight of the bullish and bullying Hobson?
Harold Brighouse wrote Hobson’s Choice at the beginning of the 20th century and the tension between Maggie and her father, points to a new order, a new set of values, where women’s work can no longer go unpaid or unsung.
In Nadia Fall’s atmospheric production, the action is moved to the 1960s. As a result, the language feels dated at times, but the themes still hold strong and it is easy to believe that old man Hobson is skiving while his daughters skivvy.
As Hobson, Mark Benton, is jewel-bright: funny and fearful in turn, but endlessly loveable. Favouring his younger daughters, who like Lear’s elder two will eventually turn, he goads Jodie McNee’s beautifully controlled Maggie into action when he compares her sharp, spinsterish exterior, with her sisters’ visible marriageability.
Within hours, Maggie proposes to the bootmaker in the basement, and we need running shoes to keep up with the consequences.
Inevitably at the Open Air Theatre on a balmy night, the setting is as much part of the experience as the action. There were moments in the second half, where the dialogue became claggy. One wondered if the production would work quite as well without editing or updating, in a standard theatrical space.
The magic of being in a theatre surrounded by trees that light up to create a fairy glade as dusk falls, is that you really don’t mind at all as long as you can go home with a smile on your face, which you most decidedly can.
Rating: Four stars
Until July 12.
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