Hobson's Choice Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester
Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play based in Salford, follows a conservative shopkeeper named Hobson as he attempts to raise his three independent daughters alone. With sound advice like “it’s a man’s world” echoing off his shop walls, you may be surprised that Hobson’s outdated views have been revitalised in an adaption that infuses the original story with an inventive twist. Writer Tankia Gupta brings the 1880’s cobbler shop to the 1980s, transforming the shop grounds with sarees and suits. Alongside the initial facelift of its dated narrative, Gupta embraces the stories universal themes surrounding parenthood, feminism and immigration. Converting the tale with customs surrounding the Hindu community, the pressure is raised by the generation gap that sees his three daughters fighting to pick and choose their own husbands.
Hobson remains at the heart of his community, having immigrated to Manchester as a Ugandan-Asian with his wife to better his family’s circumstances. Fifteen years after Idi Amin expelled 70,000 Asians from Uganda, the toiling middle-class maker has established a name for himself in the UK. Unknown circumstances have left Hobson widowed, but we follow him years later in an ambivalent and apathetic mood. More often in the pub and leaving his daughters to carry the weight of the shop unpaid, the booze-driven manager's treatment is becoming a cause for concern for his daughters.
As each of the women look for a means to escape their fate as voluntary contributors to the shop, the simple story chiefly follows his eldest daughter, Durga who plans to plan to break away and shape a life for herself. Labelled as the least desirable due to her age (30), the two youngest daughters pin their hopes on their partners rescuing them from their tyrannical father before he chooses a husband for them.
The honest cast brings heart filled performances to the Royal Exchange, lowering a framed picture of prime minister Edward Heath from the sky and surrounding him with the rag traders’ colourful materials. Thankful to Heath for welcoming Uganda’s Asians into the UK, the rich production brings an entertaining and revealing reimagining of the local tale. Involving the audience in this community, director Arei Baberjee ensures the cast can reach out to the audience on the round stage, allowing for quietly side-lined celebrations with the daughters. As the show offers a hopeful account of independence, it is difficult not to be seduced by this smartly reconstructed classic.