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Hobson's Choice


19 - 21st May 2003


Harold Brighouse


Howard Payne



For only the second time in many a year I found myself sitting in the hall as part of a modest audience, on a hot and sultry evening, to watch Parish Players production of Hobson’s Choice. A little over two hours later I left with one question in my head; did the person who bought the chairs for the hall ever think to sit in them!

As I arrived the scene was already set with house curtains open and a brass band playing in the background. Since Parish Players are trying to raise funds for a new set of house curtains, I thought it was quite interesting to note that the old ones were never used and in my opinion, they were never missed. The staging, sets and props were simple and affective, with some very nice touches throughout. I particularly noticed the room afforded to the cast in Hobson’s shop, the set had a spacious and airy feel. Contrast this with Will Mossop’s shop, even with one or two actors on the stage it had a real sense of being overcrowded and dark. The trap door was another nice element and well used by the actors. Over recent years PP’s have gone for more simple sets and this policy has paid dividends, actors have more space to ‘work’ and less room to hide. I have to mention the portrait of Hobson, which was splendid, no doubt the expert hand of Tony Miller. Touches like this are rare in professional productions and Tony’s work is a real blessing to the company, I hope he knows exactly how valuable he is and how grateful PP’s must be for his efforts. From the program to the portrait he brings real class to the production values for the company.

The work of Anita Simpson is another huge plus for PP’s, all of the costumes looked excellent and added to the characterisations, intentional or not Maggie Hobson looked like Queen Victoria and so she should. Anita’s attention to detail was outstanding and the biggest compliment I can pay her is that everything caught my eye but nothing caught my attention.

There were several excellent lighting effects and James Leslie should be very proud of the work he does, particularly pleasing were the projection effects in both shop scenes, a new dimension for the company, and something to utilise in the future.

Overall the technical side of the production was very good and reflected the high standards PP’s has set itself. The scene change from Act 3 to 4 was very slick indeed. Sally Gout and her overworked back stage team once again produced a framework for the actors to perform within, no mean feat considering the limitations of the stage.

Richard Warner as Jim Heeler was a joy, gruff and the perfect chauvinist, he easily set about sowing seeds of doubt into Henry Hobson’s mind. He had strong projection and could easily be heard anywhere in the auditorium.

Much of the time Ellie Budd as Ada Figgins seemed a little nervous and she had no need to be, her performance was suitably coy and at times affectionate. She should be far more confident in future and this will help to enhance both her clarity and volume.

I loved the interaction between Toni Conyers and Daisy McMullan as two of Hobson’s daughters, they worked very well together and produced the right balance and contrast as sisters should. It could have been all too easy to become something like the ugly sisters from Cinderella, but they were never too selfish or too unpleasant and accordingly never lost the audience’s support. Great work from both.

David Golder’s character of the faithful old retainer was in many ways quite profound. During the scene change from Act 3 to Act 4 he sat cobbling away like a man who had researched his part at a local heel bar and he portrayed genuine respect and loyalty for his employer throughout.

The arrival of Simon Cheetham as Doctor McFarlane was all too late for me, looking like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he set about Henry Hobson with the bedside manner of an undertaker. An excellent cameo which was not wasted on Simon at all.

Anne Caroll’s performance as Mrs Hepworth was another strong point of the show. She arrived at the shop and immediately dominated the scene and all the other characters within it. Not an easy thing to do so early in the play.

Richard Aldridge playing Fred Beanstock can be very satisfied with his first acting role and performance with PP’s.

I can’t explain it, but I always smile when I see Geoff Start on stage, he has this almost childlike enthusiasm which is a delight to watch but knowing Geoff, is probably born out of pure fear. His performance as Albert Prosser, had a sense of such honesty about it, not just craft, but as ever, pure instinct.

Chrissy Watson was just perfect in the role of Maggie Hobson, full of life and always in control of the situation, she manipulated her character and those around her with such ease. I’m sure that if she had told the audience to stand on one leg we would have, such was her command.

I feel Peter Smith is one of the most under-rated actors in the company, time after time he is given roles that not only have huge passages of dialogue to learn, but also require a great level of concentration and commitment. Even his gate and stance portrayed every twist and turn in the character and his accent was one of the best. He gave the title role of Hobson everything and I do mean everything.

Finally I come to Phil Matcham, whose performance as Willie Mossop would not have been out of place in a professional production and who deserved a far bigger audience for his efforts, he was simply captivating. His transformation from mouse to macho was a particular highlight for me, the audience knew he had changed, long before he opened his mouth, his entrance, posture and the slant of his bowler hat said it all. Everything about him exuded William Mossop, from his feet under the table to his Rowan Atkinson like facial expressions; it was a relentless and utterly absorbing performance. I can’t wait to see him on stage again.

At the end of the show, as I heard the dulcet tones of Nancy Sinatra’s these Boots Where Made for Walking, I recognised the clever hand of director Howard Payne. He can take a lot of credit and satisfaction over the production, which the audience and I greatly enjoyed. In recent years many of the dramatic successes for PP’s are down to his highly original, if a little unorthodox, work as director. I truly believe that Howard is a gifted and natural talent, both on and off the stage.

John Bohan

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