St John's Players' Production of Hobson's Choice

 Review by Rosemary Goodman 

 

It was with a tinge of sadness that I viewed those now motionless red and patched curtains in St John's large hall. They have opened and closed on so many productions in my memory -  far too numerous to mention! St John's Players have weathered many a storm since they first began back in the 1950's facing the challenge of dwindling numbers on so many occasions.  The very real threat of having to call it a day has often been on the cards for this society that I joined in 1963 only to have it rise again like the proverbial phoenix and come back stronger and better than ever.

 

And so it was with Hobson's  Choice by Harold Brighouse last month - this lovely old classic is tried and tested, lending opportunities for actors of all ages to inhabit these roles made famous by the film in which
 Charles Laughton's played Hobson, the heavy handed parent of three unmarried daughters.

 

This production was a brave decision by director, Richard Godfrey , when having to think around the problem of the stage being deemed unsafe due to health and safety rulings.  I had already seen Richard's production of Confusions by Alan Ayckbourn as theatre in the round, but Hobson's Choice was far riskier and much more of a challenge.  But boy, did it work well!   In fact, the scene changes were so slick it seemed like they had been rehearsed for many weeks, which I suspect was not the case!  


So all credit to Hollie Brock and her team of expert scene shifters for such a smooth transition from Hobson's shop, to Maggie's cellar and back to Hobson's parlour!  I was particularly impressed by the transformation of the counter into two different fire places -
 such a simple design but one which worked incredibly well.  Hats off to the designer!  And being in such close proximity to the actors made you feel part of a Victorian household in Salford, Lancashire - much more so than if we had been viewing it through the proscenium arch. 

 

There was excellent attention to detail with both props and costume although men's shoes and hair always pose a problem to be really authentic!  There were some lovely performances  but care needs to be taken by some actors not to be tempted to sneak a glance at the audience which takes the actor out of the world of the piece. 

Erica Hewitt as Maggie was most convincing as a woman who was not to be messed with!  Great humour was particularly brought out with her scenes with Willie, the hapless bootmaker (nicely played by Colin Buck).  When Willie chooses to sleep on the settee on his wedding night he hadn't bargained on Maggie's reaction.  After a moment of tenderness she promptly takes him by the ear and marches him off to the bedroom in order for him to perform his marital duties!  This was well timed and completely hilarious.                                                                                                             

Maggie's two sisters, played by Susannah Hill and Elene Hadjidaniel, were well observed and developed from would-be old maids to well-to-do married ladies who shirk their responsibility when their father becomes ill and in need of help.  
Their suitors were played by Simon Casey and Lewis Gillon and who both gave very confident and convincing performances.                                                               
      

 

Basil Clarke as Hobson was perfectly cast as the overbearing father who tries in vain to stay in charge of his strong willed daughters and we all laughed at his attempts to keep them under control.

I really enjoyed Caroline Regan's performance as Ada who made the most of her few lines by giving a spirited and feisty performance with excellent timing.  

Lynne Lambert as Mrs Hepworth was particularly effective as the powerful matriarch who turns from a bossy dragon into Maggie and Willie's benefactor and enabling them to start their own business. 

 

But the performance of the evening belonged to Helen Sasia, who donned male attire and was almost unrecognisable as Dr MacFarlane, complete with the most convincing Scottish accent. It was worth the drive from St Albans to catch this performance- I just hope there is photographic evidence for the archives,

The cast was ably completed by John Wearing who played Tubby and Colin Ryce as Hobson's drinking partner, Jim.

This was a really enjoyable evening, made possible not only by the actors and director, but also by all the unsung heroes from the crew on lighting, sound and stage management.  The programme and flier design were very impressive as were the delicious cupcakes to go with the cup of tea in the interval! 

St John's Players still holds a very special place in my heart and all power to its elbow for many more productions of this standard. RG

 

St John's Players' Production of Hobson's Choice

A review by Ian Turton 

 

Hobson's Choice is one of those rare plays that, through the dialogue, signals its own way of being performed. The characters are so strong and clear.  It's only in production though, that one sees how much hard work goes into making this happen.

 

 In this production, St John's Players have worked very hard and delivered a sound interpretation of what is an ambitious piece. What is particularly impressive is how well the newer members and existing members have responded to each others styles.

  Basil Clarke's foot stomping brashness as Hobson, Simon Casey and Lewis 

Gillon's sharp delivery as suitors/husbands Albert and Freddy, and Caroline Regan's spirited gem of a cameo as Ada - have added a new dimension to an already experienced group

 

 As the quiet man rising in confidence to his new position in life, it would seem the part of Willie Mossop was made for Colin Buck - and Erica Hewitt as his wife Maggie gave the role the toughness it deserved, along with an impeccable northern accent.

   Alice and Vicky - played with fine comic timing by Elene Hadjidaniel and Susanna Hill - complimented elder sister Maggie in their competitiveness, their in-fighting, and yet their group challenge to Hobson.  The sisters were like a greek chorus at times in the way they stood together through key points of the action, as if witnessing Hobson's fall - but in a way which added to the comedy of a father pitted against his daughters.

John Wearing as Tubby and Colin Ryce as Jim played Hobson's workshop hands without the local Salford accent - and this worked well in setting them apart, as the

 men who stayed behind while Willie Mossop rose.


 

Also with Lynne Lambert as Mrs Hepworth, and Helen Sasia as the doctor - Lynne played the character as a woman of social superiority without snobbery, and Helen 

played the doctor with her attention to detail that is always a pleasure to watch.

 

It was the subtlety of the performances that caught one's attention, due to skilful (and determined) direction from Richard Godfrey.  It takes a focussed mind to manage so many actors and still mark the key character shifts in this play, and in this Richard made the most of each opportunity.

 

As with the technical crew - Sound and Lighting from Jenny Helmer and JP Godfrey set the period well; and at one point, a complex and well timed set change by Hollie Brock and Caroline Regan deservedly earned a round of applause from the audience.

In all, for a cast of this size to work together so well, and to bring about such a consistently funny piece, is an achievement of which St Johns Players should be proud.

 Ian Turton