Harold Brighouse is best known for his 1916 comedy Hobson’s Choice. It has, shall we say, a rather unromantic and old fashioned view of marriage and its economic benefits. Zack, written four years later, is cut from the same cloth. Matriarch Mrs Munning (a perfectly starchy Polly Hemingway) wants to marry her eldest son Paul off to her niece, Virginia – because her sister’s side of the family are loaded.
In fact, in Brighouse’s world, marriage appears to be decided by everyone apart from the prospective bride (or groom). But this is a farce and it pays to leave any gender politics at the door. Certainly director Greg Hersov does, conjuring a delightfully feel-good play with a soft-centre at its heart, with Justin Moorhouse as the bumbling, put-upon younger son Zachariah Munning. He somehow finds himself engaged against his will, but would prefer to see it through because he hates arguments. Of course, it leaves Paul to pair off with Virginia.
And if that sounds like a ridiculous set-up, Moorhouse alone makes it work, his genial and genuinely comic performance meaning it’s not such a stretch for a bearded slob with a heart of gold to win over the well-to-do Virginia, played with suitable airs and graces by Kelly Price. Naturally, it’s not one of the most powerful plays the Royal Exchange has ever staged, but it’s message – that “you are not a nobody” – is well meant. A really enjoyable revival – as long as you don’t scratch below the surface.
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, December 7-January 22
- Harold Brighouse
- Greg Hersov
- Royal Exchange
- Cast includes
- Polly Hemingway, Michelle Tate, Pearce Quigley, Kelly Price, Justin Moorhouse
- Running time
- 2hrs 15 mins