What’s it all about?
Henry Horatio Hobson has three daughters, a shoe shop, and an alcohol problem. Though he feels threatened by the wilfulness of his children, he’s too cheap to marry them off. His eldest daughter, Maggie, takes matters into her own hands, and her machinations ensure that each girl gets her wish, and that her father gets his comeuppance.
Who’s in it?
Martin Shaw has the star billing as the eponymous Hobson, his face rosy and swollen, his words slurred and his coordination highly compromised. Practically swelling with bluster and grandiosity, Shaw’s Hobson sees himself as a King Lear figure, abandoned by his loveless offspring. Shaw deftly manages the play’s deadpan humour, causing fits of audience giggles and the occasional burst of applause mid-scene.
What should I look out for?
Naomi Frederick’s commandeering performance as Maggie, which is cool, calm and collected. Self-assured and smart, we respect her throughout for her refusal to sink to the snobbery of her siblings, and her constant belief in her husband. She also wins the prize for the sassiest Victorian on the West End stage.
Bryan Dick’s spot on characterisation of lowly boot-maker Will, who, unsuspectingly and somewhat reluctantly, rises through the social ranks. He is a joy to watch; every mannerism is perfectly controlled, from the constant wringing of his cap to the way he removes his boots.
In a nutshell?
Stellar performances ensure a fitting tribute for the centenary of Brighouse’s classic play.
What’s being said on Twitter?
— Damian Sandys (@munchkindamo) June 15, 2016
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Will I like it?
Written in 1915 and set in 1880, this is very much a play of another era, that had very different attitudes to women, (to put it into context, the original female audience members were still years away from having the right to vote, and were banned from many occupations) and the reaction the play will receive in 2016 will undoubtedly be different to the original for this reason. Brighouse clearly has some things to say about attitudes to class in Britain in the early 20th century: the labourers in the shop literally work underneath their employer, and there are some cutting remarks about remembering one’s place.
Despite its social agenda it remains an extremely funny play with some fantastic one-liners (‘You dunderheaded lump of obstinacy’ was a particular favourite) and has an uplifting story at its core: raw talent being plucked from obscurity and helped on the way to greatness.