Hobson’s Choice

by Harold Brighouse

27th – 29th May 1982

Henry Hobson, widower and boot-shop proprietor, twits his daughter Maggie on her being past the marrying age. Maggie retaliates by marrying Hobson’s best boot-hand, Will Mossup, and turning this retiring youth into a sturdy fellow whose new confidence makes him a real business rival to Hobson. Bowing to the circumstances, Hobson has no choice but to accept Will as partner in the new firm of “Mossup and Hobson”.

hobson prog

The Cast

Alice Hobson: Val Wardle
Maggie Hobson: Marjorie Treacher
Vicky Hobson: Janet Booth
Albert Prosser: Peter Monger
Henry Horatio Hobson: Rob Bell
Mrs Hepworth: Vivienne Kendall
Timothy Wadlow (Tubby): Mike Martin
William Mossop: Nick Roberts
Jim Heeler: John Sanford
Ada Figgins: Liz Wright
Fred Beenstock: Charles East
Dr McFarlane: Ian Hickling

Produced by Eric Saxton

Newbury Weekly News Review

Pace of production quickened after Players slow start

A well-known and prosperous Cambridge carrier of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Thomas Hobson by name, always insisted that the horses in his livery stable be hired out in strict rotation. “This or none” he would tell would-be customers. Thus, ”Hobson’s choice” became absorbed into the English language.

Harold Brighouse, a Lancashire playwright usually described as being “of the Manchester School” since he was closely connected with the Gaiety Theatre there, turned the theme and the expression to good account in his play of that name. It was first produced at the Apollo Theatre, London, in 1916, when it scored an instant success, and has been delighting audiences ever since. Compton Players’ production last week was no exception. Bookings were good (extra seats needed on Friday), and Friday’s audience certainly was most responsive and appreciative, clearly enjoying the neat characterisations and dry humour, and disregarding the player’s occasional lapses of memory which required prompting.

By the end of the play ‘Hobson’s Choice’ was indeed all that was left to Henry Hobson, who at its start had been his own master, a bullying father to his three daughters and a hard taskmaster to his vastly exploited employees. His downfall began when his eldest daughter Maggie showed her own business acumen by marrying his chief asset – timid Willie Mossop, a man of weak character but great talent as a shoemaker – and setting up a rival business. Her own quick thought also found a way to help her sisters marry the men they wanted.

My own upbringing was in the north, and I relish north-country humour. I have no complaints about the accents in this production, but I would have liked to see a greater transformation in the characters of both Henry Hobson and Will Mossop. Rob Bell as Hobson was too gentle and slow spoken in the early part of this play, when I felt he could have been much more self-assertive and even blustery. His later demeanour when he thought himself in danger of very adverse publicity was excellent, and his astonishment at Maggie’s rejection of what he thought were generous terms was comical indeed.

Nick Roberts on the other hand was excellent in the early pert as the very timid young man, but his growing confidence under Maggie’s careful tuition was not entirely convincing, though there was both delight and surprised relish in that lovely curtain-line… “Ee, bah gum!”

Marjorie Treacher was excellent as Maggie; the play describes her as “a hard woman”, but I would rather say “determined”. Her two sisters, Alice and Vicky, were played by Val Wardle and Janet Booth, each giving just a hint of primness and self-righteousness that really fit the part. Liz Wright made a brief but telling appearance as Ada Figgins, apparently very much the “clinging ivy”, but my goodness when she turned on Will! What a difference then!

John Sanford played Hobson’s drinking friend and confidante Jim Heeler; Mike Martin the workshop foreman and Ian Hickling the dour scot Dr. McFarlane. Peter Monger was very correct as Albert Prosser, the young lawyer, and Charles East played Fred Beenstock, the other young suitor.

There was a slightly slow start to this play but it picked up pace nicely. Producer Eric Saxton also designed the set. The really lovely costumes were hired from the Oxfordshire County Wardrobe.