A Show Not To Be Missed

Hobson's Choice: by Harold Brighouse; Arts Theatre Cambridge until Saturday: Theatre Royal, Norwich Monday, February 25 - Saturday, March 1 As anyone knows who saw Charles Laughton in the 1954 David Lean film of Hobson's Choice, the central role is a big part for a big actor.

Ivan Howlett

Hobson's Choice: by Harold Brighouse; Arts Theatre Cambridge until Saturday: Theatre Royal, Norwich Monday, February 25 - Saturday, March 1

As anyone knows who saw Charles Laughton in the 1954 David Lean film of Hobson's Choice, the central role is a big part for a big actor.

Of all our current actors there's no one for whom the play seems better suited than John Savident. In Jonathan Church's production, which began life at the Chichester Festival Theatre last August, Savident gives a towering performance, full of comedy, pathos, aggression and self pity. We're not likely to see it better done for some time.


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Hobson's Choice is one those plays always being performed somewhere in the world, Harold Brighouse's classic portrayal of middle class values in late Victorian Salford. Written and produced during the First World War, West End audiences found its raw regional realism new and challenging, its humour direct. Nowadays, it's too easily demoted into the lowish drawer marked 'Well Crafted Period Plays.'

The play revolves around the world of the pompous, self righteous Salford man of business, widower Henry Hobson, whose bookmaker's shop runs on the paltry wages he pays his workers and the free labour of his three adult daughters. He, meanwhile, spends a large part of the day, drinking and mouthing off down the road at his local, the Moonrakers.

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Any thoughts of marriage and independence the girls might have, Hobson regards as 'uppishness'. They'll sully his good name by following fashion and when it comes time for two of the girls to marry he'll choose the husbands. The third daughter Maggie, at 30, is too old and must stay to look after him.

Maggie (in a wonderfully driving performance from Carolyn Backhouse) leads the revolt when she discovers that Willie Mossop, the illiterate young man working in the cellar is a true craftsman. Her brain and his hands will be enough for them to make it in the world whether Willie likes it not. With father threatening Willie with a 'leathering', the couple leave to set up together.

Dylan Charles as Willie (the role played by John Mills in the film) is splendidly twitchy, terrified of the prospect of being bullied into marrying the gaffer's daughter, resigned and then increasingly independent as his confidence grows.

Among many memorable moments, I'd pick out Savident's portrayal of Hobson's realisation, yowling hurt and disdainful lament when he realises his family have tricked into him into marriage settlements .

This is stage story-telling at its best on Simon Higlett's exquisitely detailed and atmospheric sets. A show not to be missed.

Ivan Howlett

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