Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Hobson's Choice

Torch Theatre , Torch Theatre, Milford Haven , March 13, 2013
Hobson's Choice by Torch Theatre Hobson`s Choice is one of the great classics of twentieth century theatre and is a play that has had many, many revivals since its premiere in America (of all places!) in 1916. It is a real slice of Victorian northern working class life, where class is everything and one’s chances in life are defined by birth.

Top of the pile is Mrs Hepworth sailing onto the stage like a stately galleon and dispensing largesse (and business) to a grovelling Henry Hobson, bootshop proprietor, middle class and proud of it. The shoes she bought on her previous visit were exquisite and she wants more. But the shoes were made by William Mossop, definitely the bottom of the pile, whose father came from the workhouse, and who is consigned to a life of making boots in the bowels of the shop.

And then there is Maggie, Hobson`s feisty eldest daughter, who knows a good business deal when she sees it, marries William and, with Mrs Hepworth`s financial backing, sets her husband up in a successful business much the discomfort of the alcoholic and misogynistic Hobson.

Hobson`s Choice is that rare theatrical animal. A play with plenty of great humour and yet one that has a very real social message lurking under the surface. Fluellen Theatre’s new production keeps that balance very well. It is a production that will keep you smiling throughout, but you’ll come away with the issues firmly in your mind.

For the central role of Hobson you need an actor who is full of bluster, sound and fury and yet one for whom we never lose a certain sympathy. And in Kevin Johns we get just that. Mr Johns was several decibels higher than the rest of the cast and his delivery, both verbal and physical was a joy. He is an expert of the double take, which he put to good use throughout the show.

He was the head of a very impressive cast. Aled Herbert was a totally believable and sympathetic Mossop. Initially (and hilariously) fighting off Maggie`s approaches, but finally (and most movingly) demonstrating his love for her.

Jennifer Wallen and Bethan Johns were superb as Hobson`s younger daughters, self-absorbed and catty; Claire Novelli was an imperious Mrs Hepworth in her one short, but excellent scene; and there was a superb cameo from Christopher Hale as Tubby the corpulent workshop manager, decrepitly slow, dangerously short-sighted and with a cough that could start an epidemic.

In the performance I saw Jessica Sandry, the actress playing the pivotal role of Maggie, had lost her voice and her dialogue was spoken by another actress via an off-stage microphone. Rather than being the disaster it promised, the performances of both actresses were so good that one soon became totally absorbed in the production.

Peter Richards` perceptive direction kept the play going at a great pace and Holly McCarthy`s clever set gave a fine sense of place.

Set in Manchester a lot of the play’s humour derives from the colloquial expressions in the dialogue. The cast’s accents were uniformly excellent, and I can say this with some authority as I was accompanied to the performance by a native Mancunian who gave it all a big thumbs up. As William Mossop might have said, “Ee by gum. A right winner”

Reviewed by: John Cole

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