Hobson’s Choice at the Coliseum

Oldham Coliseum perform Hobsons chpice apr2014A family business, pompous “Man of the Community” Dad in decline, smart daughter in ascendancy, downtrodden, dopey but good natured boyfriend with talent, lawyers, business rivalry – no it’s not Citizen Khan, it’s not a repeat of Only Fools and horses, but “Hobson’s Choice”. Written by Harold Brighouse and first performed in New York in 1915, then London in 1916 it has been adapted to film 3 times (the first a silent movie in 1920) most famously the 1954 film by David Lean with Charles Laughton and John Mills, a TV movie in 1983 and a ballet!

Like the grandaddy of all those T.V. Sitcom families – it is full of snappy back-and-forth dialogue – which seems cheeky and modern. Father’s pomposity is pricked, there are lawyer-jokes, a dodgy accident-claim is used to give Henry Hobson both his come-uppance and his daughters’ emancipation – but it’s got heart with a reluctant but ultimately fulfilled romance. In fact I actually ended up feeling sorry for Hobson when he is defeated by his bright daughter’s plan – something I don’t remember feeling for the more cartoony film performance by Charles Laughton. There is an unusually large supporting cast for what is an essentially a family drama – from Tubby Wadlow the senior boot-maker to Will Mossop, the 2 other daughters and their boyfriends, Hobson’s drinking buddy Fred Beenstock (think of “Norm!” from Cheers).

It has some fairytale or Panto qualities, with a rich customer who loans Maggie and Will the stake to set up their own shop almost certainly a Fairy Godmother. It also reminded me of King Lear – a somewhat more downbeat tale of the downfall of a father who misjudged and undervalued his daughters and staff. Of course the Coliseum panto is annual treat.

Based in a doing-pretty well-but-could-do-better Salford Bootmaker’s the story is of the uprising of Hobson’s Daughters – led by the smart one, Maggie and the underpaid and under appreciated protege bootmaker Will Mossop – but the interest comes from the interplay of characters all of whom while conceived 100 years ago in the growing prosperity of the industrial era, are recognisable around us today as the streets and squares name-checked in the play as the aspiring Will speaks of expanding from Chapel St Salford to posh shops in St Ann’s Square, Manchester.

It’s a classic Northern Tale with universal appeal; A standard that I can remember doing in school – yet it is still fresh and topical without any updating or modernising, handled winningly by the cast & crew at the Coliseum and it’s on until the 10th of May so there’s plenty of chance to go see it.