Bootmaker’s blues

hobsons choice shawYou can’t help wondering what they made of it in Atlantic City in 1915. Until I read the programme note for the revival of “Hobson’s Choice” at The Vaudeville, I had no idea that Harold Brighouse’s vintage play originally had its premiere in America. (One of his admirers in Manchester had apparently taken a job in New York and persuaded the mighty Schuberts to give the script a try. They soon found they had a hit on their hands.) A century later, Brighouse’s portrayal of a daughter revolting against a tyrannical father can be enjoyed as broad comedy – Jonathan Church’s handsome, wood-panelled production is full of affectionate laughs – but the pre-feminist theme must have seemed extraordinarily bold at the time. Hobson is a red-nosed King Lear, self-centred and much too fond of a tipple, puffed up with “the majesty of trade”, and appalled at how the daughter he thinks of as a superannuated spinster suddenly turns against him. Bryan Dick gets the best openings as the shy, tongue-tied bootmaker, Willie Mossop, who becomes the focus of Maggie’s romantic and entrepreneurial attentions. Martin Shaw, sporting an impressive (fake?) paunch, faced the all but impossible task of banishing memories of Charles Laughton. Naomi Frederick displayed just the right amount of prim self-confidence as Maggie.

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