Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

henry and daughters

Paul Holtom as Henry Hobson with daughters Emily Beaton as Vickey, Rachael Louise Pickard as Alice and Jane Lunn as Maggie

Hobson’s Choice

Hall Green Little Theatre


Henry Horatio Hobson might be many things, but generous, caring, loving father can hardly be counted as one of them

The man is a bully, treats his three daughters as a cross between slaves and servants, having them work unpaid in his successful bootmaker’s business, and expects his word to be law, however daft or unreasonable.

He is also a drunk, spending much of his time in his district office, otherwise known as The Moonraker’s pub, although he can turn on the charm, of the greasiest, most obsequious kind, if an up-market customer, that is, one he perceives as being of a higher class then his own, one such as Mrs Hepworth, appears in the shop. The good lady making a haughty appearance in the elegant form of Gillian Pickard.

Paul Holtom blusters his way through Henry’s views on life, money, wages, class and general order of things as they should be in the gospel according to Hobson quite splendidly. It is a big part and he plays it beautifully from the pontificating, curmudgeonly patriarch at the beginning, to the chastened, defeated, old man facing up to death at the end.


Henry on his knees to Gillian Pickard's up-market Mrs Hepworth

The domestic target of his all-encompassing ire are his three daughters who he accuses of “upishness”, which seems to be Hobson’s obsession and favourite word, and applies to anything he doesn’t like, understand or agree with, which is pretty much everything.

The youngest daughter, and quietest, at 21, is Vickey, played by Emily Beaton, while Alice a couple of years older, played by Rachael Louise Pickard, complains more, but only when father is not around, and then there is Maggie.

Henry threatens to marry his daughter’ off to men of his choosing if their upishness continues – except Maggie, who he declares to be too old and past marrying age at 30, telling her she is shelved – except, in reality, he cannot afford to lose Maggie, who runs not only the shop, but the business - and she could sell stair rods to a bungalow.

And Maggie, in a superb performance from Jane Lunn, knows it. She is the only one to stand up to father and has her own ideas on marriage, with a beau of her own – even if the poor bloke doesn’t know it yet.

For down in the cellar is bootmaker Will Mossop, meek as a mouse suffering from an inferiority complex, uneducated, unworldly, who thinks sex comes after five, a poor soul hardly able to express himself – in short a man to whom timid would be merely an aspiration.

But Will Mossop, played beautifully by Richard Scott, is a genius at making boots, a leather working maestro and as Maggie tells him: “My brain and your hands ‘ull make a working partnership”.

Richard Scott as will

Richard Scott as the unworldly Will Mossop is no match for a determined Maggie

The catalyst to this union is Henry himself with his dyed in the wool view of master and servant, involving an attempt to give Will a good leatherin’ with his belt for upishness. A move which sees Will and Maggie walk out – starting the fall of the house of Hobson, or at least his boot making business.

We see Scott’s Will grow from the underpaid bootmaker afraid of his own shadow, and even more afraid of Maggie, semi-literate and barely able to function without instructions, slowly grow into a confidant and successful businessman under Maggie’s tutelage, his stock rising as Henry’s plummets. But that was to come.

Having had an attack of the vapours, or in his case alcoholic fumes when he is told the likely cost of marriage dowries for his daughters, and the cost of actually having to pay for shop staff, marriage has been banned for Vickey and Alice.

And that means it is left to Maggie, who has already escaped, to manufacture a plan to thwart Henry and bring married bliss to her sisters, involving would be husbands Matt Ludlam as the slightly smug solicitor Albert Prosser, and Gemma McCaffrey as seed and flour merchant Fred Beenstock – Gemma doing a decent job in a male role, a result of a lack of men for this production.

It is a lack seen also with Katherine Williams stepping in as the Och Aye the Noo Dr Macfarlane, a glorious cross between Dr Finlay and Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer, with we’re doomed this time relating merely to Henry.

And Maggie is nothing if not resourceful, outmanoeuvring Henry who is stitched up like a kipper! What is worse, to his eternal shame, Henry has been beaten by a woman!

There is support from Ellie Holly as Ada Figgins, tokened (an exchange of love tokens) to Will, until Maggie explains to her the error of her ways, as only Maggie can. 

Then there is Jim Heeler, played by David Hirst, Henry’s sometime sounding board and all-time drinking companion, while in the cellar is the bootmaking foreman Tubby Wadlow, played by Richard Woodward. A man with a strange, undying loyalty to Henry, even when his employer has become a broken, near bankrupt man.

The result is a very funny comedy, set in Salford in 1880, a place which saw the world’s first free public library (1850) and was the first street in the world to have gas lighting (1806), incidentally. Nowt t’do wit’play but a thought tha' should know –- oh, an t’cast do admirable job wi' t'accents, sithee.

It is a play which, although a comedy, with some wonderfully funny lines, has echoes of King Lear, A dominant, widowed father with three daughters, with the one he most rejected and drove away being the only one prepared to look after him in his own age.

The play was first performed in 1915, in New York, where writer Harold Brighouse’s producer Ben Iden Payne was working at the time, the First World War having not then reached America.

Although it highlights a 19th century Victorian attitude to women, it was written at a time when the Suffragette movement, which had suspended activities at the outbreak of war had been making its mark throughout the years leading up to 1914.

And here we have a strong, modern woman among sisters who know their own minds, with an old fashioned, dinosaur of a father who saw wives, daughters and indeed women in general – except those from a higher station of course – as little more than chattels. A political point being made perhaps?

This is a fine production directed by Andrew Cooley, with a good cast and three superb leads with a clever, simple set utilising two tree sided trucks to give us Hobson’s shop, Maggie’s cellar and Hobson’s parlour. It is also well costumed by Gillian Pickard, Rachael Louise Pickard and Julie Williams.

More than a century old it is still a fine play, with biting fun and some sharp observation of Victorian society to produce an entertaining evening of theatre. To 20-07-19

Roger Clarke


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