There are some evenings in the theatre so terrible you can’t wait for it to finish and then occasionally there’s one so wonderful you never want it to end. Well Birmingham Royal Ballet’s latest production of Hobson’s Choice is just that, the perfect product served up in the perfect package.
For a start it’s based on the classic northern comedy with a feminist message. Harold Brighouse wrote hundreds of plays for the amateur stage but this is the only one to have survived, and with good reason, because it has a plot full of real pathos and down-to-earth humour.
It’s set in a Salford bootmaker’s sometime during the reign of Victoria when men told and women did. Henry Hobson rules his shop and his three daughters with a rod of iron, but they mostly do the work while he spends nearly all his time with his chums in the Moonraker’s Inn. In other words, he drinks. Vicky and Alice are two pretty girls with respectable suitors while Maggie by the standard of her day is an old maid. But when during a general laying down of the law her father tells her she’s too old to get a man, she takes surprising action and tells the shy, brutalised boot-hand Willie Mossop that he’s going to wed her. And by gum, he does too.
Soon they’ve set up home together in a cellar where Willie’s genius as a boot-maker and Maggie’s knack of selling see them prosper. But Maggie’s real success is in turning the downtrodden Willie Mossop into a confident man and master craftsman who ends up partner to his old employer.
The first night of the run had the perfect cast. Elisha Willis is just right as the sternly practical Maggie who has a hidden heart, veteran character dancer David Morse triumphed as her domineering dipsomaniac of a father and the bashful Willie finally flowered thanks to the magical comic skill of BRB’s new Ballet School Principal Robert Parker. The company’s Assistant Director Marion Tait as the couple’s rich benefactor Mrs. Hepworth completed the list of strong performers in all the major roles.
Paul Reade’s witty score was played with gusto by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and with imposing sets and smart costumes they already had the ground plan for success. But in addition the story is told through David Bintley’s series of witty set pieces from the delightful opening scene when the girls’ suitors come to call through Will’s wonderful clog dance to the second act’s unforgettably charming Sunday afternoon in the park with bandstand, waltzing couples and high-jumping Sally Army volunteers.
If you fancy an evening of old-fashioned fun fit to lift anybody out of their gloom, this one’s definitely for you.
Next week the company gives a Frederick Ashton double bill showcasing his ballets The Two Pigeons and Daphnis and Chloe.
Hobson’s Choice runs until tomorrow (February 25). For tickets phone the Box Office on 0844 338 5000 nor go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.
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