THEY say that behind every successful man is a great woman and nowhere is that more strongly emphasised than in The Octagon’s latest play.
Period comedy drama Hobson’s Choice, written by Lancastrian legend Harold Brighouse, was an interesting and ambitious selection for the first production of 2014, given its duration (2 hours 45 minutes not including two intervals) and – at face value at least – limited scope.
But its delivery tonight was a masterstroke, thanks to excellent performances from lead actress Natalie Grady, who plays Maggie Hobson, and the versatile Michael Shelford (Willie Mossop).
The play is set in 1880s Salford as self-made man Henry Hobson, played by Maxwell Hutcheon, surveys his empire – a popular cobblers’ shop – and gets complacent with what he perceives to be a bad attitude among his three daughters.
But Henry’s misogyny gets the better of him and the fateful blow is delivered when he describes Maggie, his eldest daughter, as too old to get married.
In a whirlwind scene, Maggie keeps a cool head while shaking things up beyond Henry’s wildest dreams…or nightmares.
This is a play that rests on Grady’s smooth delivery and it was as dynamic and as close to perfection as it is possible to get.
Another key component was the coming of age of unambitious cobbler Willie, and Shelford (who will be known to fans of Radio Four’s The Archers as Harry) does modest and unassuming just as well as he pulls off authoritative and dominant.
Shelford and Grady stole the show and it flew by with a well-pitched mix of comedy and the tense unravelling of a fascinating power struggle.
But it is important not to take anything away from the others making up this excellent 12-strong cast who sent a satisfied audience home pondering over if this is a man’s world or if it is women who rule the roost.
Perhaps what we can take away from this play is what counts most is compromise and teamwork between the two, just as the collective efforts of the cast and crew are sure to make this a memorable run of shows.
Hobson’s Choice is on at The Octagon until February 22. Visit octagonbolton.co.uk for ticket information.