Created for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1989, Hobson’s Choice was one of David Bintley’s earliest creations. This revival celebrates his final season as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, after 24 years with the company.
The three-act narrative ballet is based on Harold Brighouse’s 1915 play. Bintley’s comic, romantic re-telling follows permanently inebriated boot-shop owner Henry Hobson and his three daughters, who are all eager to marry. Prim but determined, his eldest daughter Maggie (Samara Downs) decides to make Will Mossop, Hobson’s boot-maker, her suitor and ultimately master of her father’s business.
It’s a charming, joyous, character-driven work. From Hobson’s staggering, clumsy antics – somewhat caricatured but never over-played by Jonathan Payn – to Lachlan Monaghan’s puppy-like portrayal of cheery, bashful Will Mossop, Bintley’s choreography is shaped around a central cast of personable, down-to earth characters.
There’s a touch of musical theatre, particularly in Mossop’s Act I clog-dance, which Monaghan – with his sprightly and easy manner of dancing – pulls off with goofy charm. It’s a tone that suits Paul Reade’s score, periodically infiltrated by music hall songs that, for many in the audience, offer the chance to sing-a-long.
The ballet’s light, easy humour and relatable characters are warm-hearted and human and the neat, expressive choreography is instantly readable. Unlike many of his works, Bintley has made little revision to Hobson’s Choice in its 30-year history – but why change a work that connects so well with its audience and has such an easy sense of humanity?