by Harold Brighouse.
Open Air Theatre Inner Circle Regent’s Park NW1 4NU To 12 July 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 826 4242 (24hr).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 June.
Unlikely young love wins-out in fitfully successful relocation.
Two changes have happened to Hobson’s. Harold Brighouse’s 1915 comedy has been relocated from 1880s Salford to the 1960s. And it is performed in the open air.
The time-shift is intriguing if not quite convincing. Music surrounding the action suggests 1963-1966, slightly too late for surprise at lost parental authority. (Perhaps next season the Open Air Theatre will play Bill Naughton’s 1959 Spring and Port Wine in late Victorian guise.)
Expert cobbler Willie Mossop’s functional illiteracy takes on a different hue than it had before the age of universal education. And pushing a handcart of furniture through Salford streets would have been more dangerous than eighty years earlier.
The open air element is more questionable. Hobson’s boot shop rotates to allow moments of street activities, but the fading patriarch’s claustrophobic rule is lessened. Generally, attitudes and expressions don’t seem to fit
The comedy is indestructible and, when not tending the incipient buds of a sixties compilation musical, director Nadia Fall and her cast do well by it. But the melancholy and realism behind the laughs are barely visible in Mark Benton’s Hobson, a broadly comic performance that gets laughs when they don’t depend on careful phrasing of rhythms in the dialogue.
The younger Hobson daughters are decently played, as are their respectable young lovers, though they fight against the openness for a sense of individuality; they provide an identikit north, like the cleaned-up street of Ben Stones’ set.
Which leaves the show’s strongest points. Karl Davies captures the strength beneath Willie’s meekness from the moment he fends-off Maggie’s advances or stands-up to Hobson’s threats. By the end the incipient entrepreneur is evident – one gain from the updating.
Conversely, Jodie McNee’s Maggie (in a contrasting lovers’’ season following her Liverpool Twelfth Night) shows vulnerability alongside her determination in hyper-activity over small things as she prepares to broach love to Willie. And their wedding night plays a variation on the romantic close devised by Christopher Luscombe and David Thacker in recent productions at Sheffield and Bolton, as Maggie returns from bedroom to living-room to lay her head gently on nervous Willie’s shoulder.
Ada Figgins: Kate Adler.
Henry Horatio Hobson: Mark Benton.
Dr MacFarlane: Robin Bowerman.
Vickey Hobson: Hannah Britland.
Alice Hobson: Nadia Clifford.
Mrs Hepworth: Joanna David.
Willie Mossop: Karl Davies.
Jim Heeler: Bill Fellows.
Maggie Hobson: Jodie McNee.
Albert Prosser: Jordan Metcalfe.
Tubby Wadlow: Richard Syms.
Fred Beenstock: Leon Williams.
Director: Nadia Fall.
Designer/Costume: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Augustos Psillas for Autograph.
Musical Director: Tom Deering.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Associate director: Barbara Houseman.
Assistant director: Sasha McMurray.
Assistant designer: Francesca Reidy.