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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre presents


Hobson’s Choice


Jordan Metcalfe (Albert Prosser) and Mark Benton (Henry Hobson) in Hobson's Choice at Open Air Theatre

by Harold Brighouse

Director – Nadia Fall

Set & Costume Designer – Ben Stones

Movement – Jack Murphy

Lighting Designer – Oliver Fenwick

Musical Director – Tom Deering

Sound Designer – Avgoustos Psillas for Autograph

Casting Director – Juliet Horsley CDG

Season Associate Director – Barbara Houseman

Dialect Coach – Majella Hurley

Assistant Director – Sasha McMurray


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

12 June – 12 July 2014

The action opens outside the premises of one Henry Horatio Hopkins (Mark Benton) who returns home, well lubricated, from a Mason’s meeting. A recently widowed proprietor of a fine shoemaking establishment and father to three daughters, it becomes immediately apparent that he likes to be heard and obeyed. It is also soon clear that he is a misogynistic, classist, drunken oaf who expects his daughters to serve him for their ‘keep’ and who thinks it a grave mistake to praise workers to their faces lest they get ideas above their station. Tormented by an overblown fear of ‘uppishness’ from either corner he keeps a hard word and a hard hand to those under his roof. A cleverly crafted revolving stage represents both the inside and the outside of Hobson’s shop wherein most of the action is set and allows for movement between locations.

Written in 1915 and originally set in the 1880’s, Regent’s Park’s summer production is set in 1960s Salford, Manchester instead. With unemployment at an all-time low and rock and roll creeping into the hundreds of pubs in Salford, times were changing. Whether attitudes and biases were making positive progress was another matter and one which forms the central preoccupation of this lively and spirited production.

Youngest daughters, Vickey (Hannah Britland) and Alice (Nadia Clifford), would like to think they’re progressive, all miniskirts, trendy haircuts and daring courtships. In actual fact they are remarkably similar to their father when it comes to rash judgements and their snobbish values. Their sister Maggie (Jodie McNee), older, wiser and more gifted in every aspect of business, is portrayed as rather a shrinking violet at first. Shelved by her father and designated a life of domestic labour under his instruction due to her grand old age of thirty, she briefly seems resigned. However her secret aspirations once revealed initiate the real comic adventure at the heart of the story.

Whilst Maggie is progressive in the sense that she sees potential in boot-maker Willie Mossop (Karl Davies) when everyone else refuses to, she is still immensely traditional in her overall aims and mores. She invests huge efforts into coaxing him to becoming a more traditionally masculine and assertive partner. Her visible delight when he stands his ground of his own volition and without her instruction is comical. Her subsequent insistence that he not ‘spoil it’ by explaining or excusing himself after doing so reflects tender desperation.
Maggie’s sisters set their respective foppish partners, lawyer Albert Prosser (Jordan Metcalfe) and a merchant Fred Beenstock (Leon Williams), miles above their sister’s choice of husband in terms of intellect, class and thus general worth. Britland and Clifford make an excellent duo, twinning their shallowness and nonchalance.

Erstwhile foreman in the workshop, Tubby Ludlow (Richrd Syms) is astounded to find himself as housekeeper at Hobson’s when all goes awry, emasculated and disappointed by the tasks available to him, he nonetheless sees that it is Mr Hobson and his temper rather than his daughters and their particular frivolity and determination at the root of the family rift.  

Costumes by Ben Stones are very well conceived and perfectly reflect the class and stature of the wearer, an essential aspect on such a large stage and in a production with so many characters. Hobson is three-piece-suited for the most part. Prosser and Beenstock are similarly decked out to reflect their social standing. And interestingly, the most poignant indicator of Willie’s acquired success and learning is a dapper suit in the final scenes. The younger girls prefer swinging sixties dresses in which their father asserts you can see what they had for breakfast. Maggie is dressed more demurely throughout but the sharp lines and bold blue colouring of her wedding outfit sets her apart as the one who means business. And finally, at his lowest moments, Mr Hobson’s dishevelled attire is extremely telling, almost gasp-worthy.

This version of Hobson’s Choice is well matched to the setting, opening and closing with sixties songs and dancing and full of jovial punning and warmth. Whilst exploring class and gender issues of the time in which the play is set, Hobson’s Choice also makes for a very entertaining, family-friendly evening, in one of the most magical theatre venues in the capital.


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Inner Circle, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4NU
Tickets: £25 - £45
Ticket enquiries: 0844 826 4242


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