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Hobson's Choice at the King's Theatre
An insightful, touching production of Hobson's Choice by Harold Brighouse at the King's Theatre
Rosie Hedger
Tuesday, 20 November, 2007 | 20:00
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Maggie and Henry Hobson
Credit: Unknown

Despite the possible limitations of its 1880 middle-class setting, Hobson's Choice is a jolly Victorian romp laced with cheerfully endearing characters and a clever, amusing script.

Pompous widower Henry Hobson engages in light-hearted warfare with his three daughters over their "uppish" ways, denying his youngest two, Alice and Vickey, the chance to marry unless they agree to curb their rebellious natures. Eldest daughter Maggie—perceived by her father as over-the-hill at the ripe old age of thirty—faces a life of unpaid work in his boot-making shop. Then she lights upon Willie Mossop, the underpaid, illiterate, yet highly gifted shoemaker who works for her father. Maggie confidently bullies Willie into marrying her and, by setting up shop themselves, they subsequently starve her obstinate father's business of trade. Drowning his sorrows at the local inn, Hobson despairs over his daughters' behaviour. Facing bankruptcy and fatal alcoholism, Hobson enters a partnership with Maggie and Willie to save himself from ruin.

Although, on the surface, Brighouse's script is a comforting comedy revolving around family relations, hidden beneath the comical despair of Hobson and the clever control held in the hands of Maggie, are more complex issues of class mobility and the role of women in the late nineteenth century. Henry Hobson, portrayed excellently by John Savident, sees himself as representative of the "sane" middle class, and is horrified at Willie Mossop's ascent up the social ladder. Similarly, anticipated gender roles are reversed with wonderful irony as Willie proves to be unwilling partner in his marriage with Maggie Hobson – a woman of poise and intelligence whose touching scenes alone with her husband grow more endearing as the play develops.

While director Jonathan Church's production occasionally displays weakness in its ability to engage with minor characters, a strong cast led by Savident allows Brighouse's script to succeed, employing warm humour to successfully tackle contentious issues. Enhanced by a well-considered stage set demonstrative of the period, and stitched together with touching sentiments, Hobson's Choice is an enjoyable, witty and insightful production.

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