A sparking well-paced revival brings fresh life to a family drama with feminist overtones in Thom Southerland’s revival of Hobson’s Choice at the cosy but comfortable Broadway Studio in Catford.
The piece follows three daughters of a bullying shopkeeper struggling to achieve independence and identity against a background of male supremacy, alcoholism and Victorian mill-town poverty.
And it’s very funny.
Its author Harold Brighouse might have been inspired by Chekhov’s Three Sisters when he was at Manchester Grammar, but deserves credit for pioneering the ‘Northern Drama’ twenty years before his contemporary J. B. Priestley.
What’s interesting is how modern audiences react differently to the ‘issues’ in the play: it would have been considered completely normal at the time for a master to thrash his apprentices with a belt, and highly comical that a young woman should have the temerity to set up in business in competition with her father.
We identify strongly with the self-improving Maggie, played with conviction by Tegwen Tucker and delivering some of the best comic lines - although she could extend the range of her emotions and gestures without losing the controlled determination of the character, and it’s harder to feel compassion for the ‘abuser’ as we’d probably call him today, despite Anthony Wise‘s fine interpretation of Henry Horatio Hobson which is as authentic and vulnerable as possible within the confines of the script.
As Maggie’s gawkily reluctant fiancée Will Mossop, Sean Pol McGreevy makes an excellent start and his body language is perfect, but as the character grows in confidence his accent takes a trip across the Pennines finishing somewhere in the suburbs of Newcastle, canny lad. Otherwise, the Salford inflections hold up well throughout the faultless supporting cast, defying any potential to slip into Victoria Wood parody.
The mauve silk dresses with tight bodices and bustles sported by the Hobson sisters seemed more appropriate for the Wild West than the North West, but the play is set in 1880, the same year as Southerland favourite Annie Get Your Gun which is also about a strong woman making her way in a man's world, and makes you wonder whether there’s a wonderfully surreal combination show to be cobbled together from the two
until then, this is a real and refreshing slice of Lancashire life well worth the journey to Catford.
Hobson's Choice continues at the Broadway Theatre Studio until Sunday 21 March Wednesday to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Wednesday and Thursday matinees at 2pm and Sunday performances at 3pm. Tickets £8-13.50. The Broadway is about 6 minutes' walk from either Catford or Catford Bridge, trains from London Bridge and Victoria with regular service even after the performance.