Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre

“There’s another man with claims on me”

Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice is regarded a good old-fashioned British classic and features on the NT2000 Top 100 plays list so when a production was announced at the Bolton Octagon earlier this year, I was keen to see it for the first time. Sure enough, having made that trip the Open Air Theatre then announced their own revival at the distinctly more convenient location of Regents Park but hey ho, you can’t win ‘em all.

And in all honesty, I did prefer the bona fide Northern version. Nadia Fall’s production here feckles the show a little too much, moving it into the 60s which undoubtedly gives it a brighter sense of modernity but one which also flies in the face of many of the gender relationships of the play – the huge social change of the time is quietly forgotten for the most part, an inconvenient truth when so much of the writing is about specific notions of parental obedience and the bestowing of dowries. 

Still, it sparkles with some brilliant acting from Jodie McNee and Karl Davies as the unlikely couple who are forced together by circumstance (well, her determination) but grow genuinely closer as they espy something of a kindred soul in each other, real sweetness coming through which counterpoints the cruelness of Mark Benton’s paterfamilias Hobson. One thing the concept does allow for is a swinging soundtrack to be introduced which is certainly fun on a balmy evening and makes for a good but not necessarily spectacular experience.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th July 

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