Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – until 6 July 2019
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
The Royal Exchange’s latest offering is an adaptation of Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice, with the action updated from Victorian-era Salford to Ancoats in the 1980s. This adaptation by Tanika Gupta centres on a Ugandan-Asian family which broadens the thematic reach of the play to touch on modern issues such as the integration of refugees, as well as the original core themes of class, family and success.
The plot revolves around Hari Hobson who exploits the free labour of his three daughters in the family tailor business whilst he frequents the local pub. His eldest daughter Durga, upon being told by her father that she is too old to marry, sets in motion a plan which sees the three daughters free of their father and married to the man of their choosing.
The main problem with this production is that each scene runs on FAR too long. The play could easily shave 30 minutes from its running time without losing any actual content – most conversations seem to address the same topic two or three times. Despite the valiant efforts of a talented cast, this makes the pacing impossibly slow and limits how enjoyable the evening can be.
The cast put in some strong comic performances, but the production as a whole seems to swerve the dramatic heart of the play in favour of the comedic. This makes for a few awkward tonal shifts where otherwise loveable characters perform cruel acts seemingly out of the blue. Shalini Peiris is a particular highlight as Durga Hobson, providing an impressively composed centre for the more comic characters to revolve around.
Designed by Rosa Maggiora, the set keeps things simple yet colourful and establishes the changing setting efficiently. A portrait of Ted Heath descending from the ceiling makes for a strong visual gag which lands well with the audience, who are kept laughing for the majority of the evening.
The sum of all this means that the bittersweet conclusion of the play – a chronically alcoholic Hobson being manipulated into a business deal by a newly successful Durga – feels more brutal than it was perhaps intended to be. An enjoyable evening then, but one which lacks in substance where it doesn’t need to.
Hobson’s Choice runs at the Royal Exchange until 6 July 2019.
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