"A charming tale beautifully told"
by Chris Sims for remotegoat on 07/03/10

Entering the intimate, cosy studio theatre at Catford Broadway feels rather like stepping into an old-fashioned parlour, and it's hard to imagine a better setting for Brighouse's warm, witty and quintessentially Northern drama. The wry script, following three Salford sisters as they seek to escape a life of boot-shop drudgery under their tyrannical father, is given full justice in this loving production.

A good deal of the production budget seems to have been spent on the costumes, and the result is as effective a transportation to a bygone age as you are likely to see in a small-scale production. The staging is kept as simple as possible within the confines of the script, which requires transformation from a 1900s shop interior to a young couple's dining room and back. These transformations are mostly impressively achieved, with clever use of static imagery to hold the audience's attention while furniture is switched around. Only the start of the second act, which segues uncertainly in as the actors set up the stage in character with the house lights up, fails to fully convince.

The talented cast make the most of the rich material. At the centre of the story, Tegwen Tucker's portrayal of eldest sister Maggie is a joy to watch and grounds the entire production. Tucker is a calm and self-possessed stage presence, delivering Maggie's acerbic commentary on those around her with aplomb, yet allowing us glimpses of a tender and loyal heart beneath. She is at her best when sharing the stage with Charlotte Bayley and Felicity McCormack, who give equally impressive performances as her self-centred younger sisters.

Sean Pol McGreevey is suitably endearing as Maggie's nervous young fiance, despite at times giving the impression that maintaining his Lancashire accent was inhibiting the spontaneity of his performance. The one slightly off note in the central family is sounded by Anthony Wiseman as the titular Hobson, whose curmudgeonly rantings hit too high a note too early, and drifted into caricature on occasion; sadly, it means the groundwork isn't quite there for his otherwise moving portrayal of a broken man in the second act.

If there is a weakness in the script it is in the large number of underdeveloped characters, particularly the love interests for the two younger sisters. However, the mostly strong supporting cast approach their roles with dedication, contributing to the production's effective recreation of Victorian society. Particular mention should go to Matt Prendergast, whose energetic appearance as a didactic doctor prevents the somewhat slow second act from dragging.

Those after edgy, avant-garde theatre should look elsewhere, but for a simple and humane story told with humour, affection and commitment, Hobson's Choice makes for a most enjoyable experience.

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