BWW Reviews: HOBSON'S CHOICE, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, June 17 2014
Mark Benton leads the company for the latest revival Harold Brighouse's family comedy Hobson's Choice, at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Moved 80 years in the future to the 1960s this new production attempts to tackle gender politics as well as making the most of the music and fashion from the era.
Benton plays the eponymous Salford shoemaker, a widower and father to three daughters whom he doesn't know how to control. He spends his days drinking, leaving them to tend the shop, but as they become more and more in charge he feels the need to keep their uppishness in check - and in doing so loses them.
He threatens to marry them off - at least two of them, telling his oldest and brightest daughter Maggie (Jodie McNee) that she's well beyond marrying age. Maggie soon takes matters into her own hands by demanding young workman Willie Mossop (Karl Davies) marries her so they can make their fortune together.
Davies is the star of the show. His transformation from meek illiterate workshop boy to master bookmaker is well handled and he remains the most consistently likeable character on stage. Sadly the same can't be said for the rest of the cast - there is an almost pantomime feel to the show with each character so arch and unlikeable that it becomes very hard to feel much engagement with the play.
Benton puts in a good turn as a comedy drunk, but ultimately it's hard to believe that it's slowly killing him. Jordan Metcalfe and Leon Williams provide fun support as the younger sisters' hapless suitors but while the comedy is, on-the-whole, competently delivered any deeper message is sadly lost.
Ben Stones's set, a torn cross-section of a Salford bootshop on a revolve, sits well in the open air setting - although it would have sat just as well in a West End theatre, without the amplification and shouting needed to get through to the audience under an open sky.
Great care is taken to recreate the 1960s in furniture and costume; the attention to detail is excellent but by moving a play written at the height of the suffrage movement (and perhaps set in the 1880s to make the subjugation of women more believable) to a more modern era just does not quite make sense. Whilst they make great use of the music the 60s have to offer (Gerry and the Pacemakers' 'How Do You Do It?' is a constant refrain) any point they may have been trying to make about how the swinging 60s wasn't quite as liberal as all that was lost in a mess of anachronisms.
Hobson's Choice provides a mildly amusing two hours of theatre but is sadly unlikely to provide anything more ground-breaking than that.