Players Theatre

Directed by David Burns

When I go to see something unfamiliar to me I start by researching it and I am always surprised by some information that I didn’t know.

The play by Harold Brighouse was one such example. So out comes the laptop and an internet search commences. The surprise is in the play’s title as it has history as the saying goes.

A Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only one thing is offered. Because a person may refuse to accept what is offered, the two options are taking it or taking nothing. In other words, one may “take it or leave it.” The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson.

This is the central theme to the play that is set in Salford.  The paternal character of Henry Hobson (Ian Wilkinson) believes that he has choices in life but his three daughters, led by Maggie (Sarah Howsam) have other ideas. Their “uppishness” thwarts his plans and quite often he retires to the Moonrakers, the local pub.

From the moment this play began I knew I was going to watch some strong character performances. The actors playing the roles of Henry’s daughters, Lucy Thorburn (Alice Hobson), Lottie Shepherd (Vickey Hobson) and Sarah Howsam (Maggie Hobson), struck the right tone at the beginning, establishing the “uppishness” that would frustrate their father. The body language and vocal delivery relayed to the audience that they were not to be dominated and were quite headstrong women.

This was especially true of Sarah Howsam, who maintained her character all the way through the play and was a joy to watch. I particularly liked the softening and tenderness of her manner in the later stages of the play towards her husband William Mossop (Ian Tyler).

This play has a great deal of humour to it: how the men – who believe they have choice – are manipulated by the women. All on stage are to be commended for their delivery and clarity of dialogue. It was strong, clear and never rushed, allowing the audience time to understand what was unfolding before them.

While all the actors delivered their lines with confidence there were some outstanding performances of note; Ian Wilkinson (Henry Hobson) established his character from the moment that he stepped onto stage and through the artful delivery of dialogue and facial expressions you knew he was frustrated that his plans for his daughters were being thwarted. He never stopped acting while on the stage.

The three lead actors Ian Wilkinson, Ian Tyler and Sarah Howsam showed us all how to maintain and sustain a character from the start to the end of a play.

Ian Tyler’s comic timing and a bumbling character portrayal had me laughing. I particularly enjoyed the transformation from hen-pecked husband to the more assertive person by the end of the play.

It is always a pleasure to see youth that has been nurtured by a society sharing a stage with more established actors. It is a great opportunity to develop further the craft of acting by observing those more experienced.

The set was effective in placing the scenes of the Hobson shop in Chapel Street, Salford, and particularly so in using the stage trap door to give the impression of a workshop below. The scenery was then transformed into Will Mossop’s shop indicating the poor conditions that he and Maggie found themselves in after setting up for themselves, as opposed to the more opulent living room of Henry Hobson by the end.

I am sure that a great deal of hard work and time went into building the effective scenery. All those helpers should feel very proud of themselves. The props were minimal but added to the scenes’ creation and the costumes were excellent and correctly portrayed the era.

The appearance of stage depth, and the sparse use of furniture, meant that there was plenty of space for the actors to move around. The director, David Burns, made sure that the sight lines for the audience were clear and thus  engaged the whole audience.

Association of Community Theatre 2017