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Hobson’s Choice review at the Vaudeville Theatre, London – ‘handsome but fusty’

Martin Shaw in Hobson's Choice at Vaudeville Theatre, London
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Jonathan Church is currently presiding over his final season at the helm of Chichester Festival Theatre as well as launching the first West End co-production of his new eponymous theatre company, following his curtailed tenure at Sydney Theatre Company – a rare misstep for him.

He’s made bolder programming choices during his time at West Sussex, but this revival of Harold Brighouse’s 1915 play – which opened at the Theatre Royal Bath earlier this year – is very much in the mould of the Chichester productions of old: a classic play handsomely revived with a star name – in this case Martin Shaw in the title part. As stolid as it is solid, the only surprise here is to find it on the Strand rather than on the Chichester Festival stage.

Church’s production is played straight, traditional, even reverential. The laughs are slower to come, but he brings a layered sense of reality and truth to the play. When Martin Shaw’s Henry Hobson makes his second act entrance, after falling into the cellar of a corn merchant, covered in a cloud of dust, it feels like an apt metaphor for the show itself, which feels both dusty and a little fusty.

But that doesn’t extinguish the enduring period pleasures the play. Shaw gives bombast and bluster to Hobson as he finds his daughters asserting their independence at last from his drunken bullying. Naomi Frederick lends a practical, steely integrity to the eldest daughter, supposedly on-the-shelf at the age of 30, as she makes a determined play for the shop boot-maker Willie Mossop, played in an appropriately deadpan, browbeaten manner by Bryan Dick.

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Handsome if slightly underpowered production of an English comedy classic