Paul Johnson | 09 Mar 2014 10:46am
Like ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Harold Brighouse’s 1915 Lancashire comedy is an oft-performed favourite of amateur theatre. The downside of this popularity is that some dismiss it as a worthy but dated old warhorse.
How wrong they are.
Funny, wise and touching, ‘Hobson’s Choice’ is a true English masterpiece and deserves to be cherished as such. So I’m glad to report that South London Theatre have come up with a production that does it justice.
The performances here are exceptionally strong, most noteably from Gemma-May Bowles as Hobson’s ferociously determined eldest daughter Maggie and Oliver Jones as Will Mossop, the lowly educationally-challenged bootmaker she takes under her wing.
In less accomplished hands there is a danger that Maggie could come across as a one-dimensional bossy-boots, but Bowles manages to imbue her with such twinkling wit and intelligence that we’re presented with a character that’s easy to warm to. At times, the briskness of her delivery tends to make some of her dialogue a touch indistinct, but on the whole this is a Maggie to be proud of.
Likewise, lesser actors might fall into the trap of portraying Will Mossop as a gormless George Formby-esque caricature. Instead, Oliver Jones gives us a fully-rounded portrait. As the character grows in confidence under Maggie’s influence, so does Jones’ performance. Every facial expression, every stuttering hesitation is spot-on. And his timing is to die for.
As Maggie’s younger sisters Alice and Vickey, Ellen Hunter and Hayley Crossland both make the most of their comic moments, while Alex Watts and Owen Chidlaw also impress as their suitors Albert and Freddie.
There’s quality in the smaller roles too with Matthew Lyne (Jim Heeler), Chloe Moffat (Ada Figgins), David Blatcher (Tubby Wadlow), Maggie Cearns (Mrs Hepworth) and Daniel Kelly (Dr MacFarlane) all turning in finely-judged performances.
Which brings us to Hobson himself. Initially, Christopher Vian-Smith seems to lack the right degree of bluster and bragadoccio required for this self-important Northern windbag. However, his quieter, more understated approach does work well in the later more reflective scenes when we are required to sympathise with his plight.
The quality of the acting is well-served by a simple yet effective stage design which deftly takes us through three different settings and even manages to incorporate an extremely convincing trap door – no mean feat at the Bell theatre!
Props and costumes are fine for the most part, but – and this is a small quibble – given that this is a play about a 1915 Lancashire bootmaker, there is rather too much obviously modern footwear on display, particularly among the men.
Those criticisms aside, director Stephanie Urquhart and her cast and crew are to be congratulated on a highly entertaining show. ‘Hobson’s Choice’ may be an old warhorse, but this production proves that it doesn’t deserve to be put out to grass just yet.
- : admin
- : 04/03/2014