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Mr Monkey sees Hobson's Choice at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 31st May 2019
End date : 6th July 2019
Visit date : 5th June 2019
Tony Jayawardena as Hari Hobson (image by Mark Brenner)
Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) laying down the law to anyone who will listen (image by Mark Brenner)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Hobson's Choice
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Hobson's Choice.

Mr Monkey took the 192 into Manchester, then scampered through the streets of Manchester for the press night of Tanika Gupta's updating of Harold Brighouse's comedy Hobson's Choice at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Hobson's Choice was Harold Brighouse's first and most famous play and included a number of elements from his own early life. It opened in New York in 1915. Brighouse set Hobson's Choice in a cobbler's shop in Salford in 1880; for this production Tanika Gupta has reset it in a tailor's shop 1987 Ancoats. This has involved a certain amount of re-writing, but it's basically true to the original.

Hari Hobson and his family came to Manchester in 1972, when Ida Amin expelled all the Asians from Uganda. He bought an old tailors shop in Ancoats, and made a success of the trade. By 1987, when the play is set, he is spending more time down the pub with his business cronies than he is running the business. The shop is actually being run by his eldest daughter, Durga, who can apparently sell anything to anyone, while the best of the tailoring is done by the downtrodden and illiterate Ali Mossop. Ruby and Sunita, Hari's two younger daughters, are more interested in boy and late nights at the Hacienda than the tailoring business.

When a client praises Ali's tailoring skills, and leaves her card with him in case he leaves Hobson's, Durga realises that it's time for both Ali and her to marry and set up their own business. This comes as a surprise to everyone else, especially Ali. They get engaged, and set up a tailors in a rented shed.

When Ali and Durga get married, Durga is able to persuade (or, more accurately, blackmail) Hari to allow Ruby and Sunita to choose their own husbands and, eventually, to restore the fortunes of Hobsons by allowing Ali Mossop to take over the company.

The stage set is, for most of the production, a series of raised areas representing various areas of the shop. Mr Monkey was intrigued before the play started because a lot of the set had dustcovers over it, but the first people on the stage moved the covers to reveal nothing more exciting than a table and some rolls of cloth. Another thing that puzzled Mr Monkey was a prominent picture of Edward Heath; this turned out to be because, being Prime Minister, Heath could have refused to let the Ugandan Asians settle in the UK, but didn't.

Hobson's Choice has a strong cast. Shalini Peiris is excellent as Durga Hobson, the only person in the play who actually knows how to get what she wants. As Eli Mossop, Esh Alladi convincing portrays a naturally talented man whose lack of confidence stops him realising his talent, at least until he's more or less driven into partnership with Sunita. Tony Jayawardena's Hari Hobson is a fine portrayal of a partriarch loosing his grip without really knowing why, and Mr Monkey found his descent into being found dead drunk in Piccadilly Gardens quite moving (even though the results were funny). The main three characters are brilliantly supported by the rest of the cast.

Mr Monkey's only previous exposure to Hobson's Choice is the David Lean film from 1954. Mr Monkey is very pleased that the Royal Exchange have put on an updated version, which is funnier than the original (unless Lean deliberately left some jokes out).

Shalini Peiris as Durga Hobson and Esh Alladi as Eli Mossop (image by Mark Brenner)
Eli Mossop (Esh Alladi) accepts a marriage and business proposal from Durga Hobson (Shalini Peiris) while Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) gets annoyed (image by Mark Brenner)
Shalini Peiris as Durga Hobson and Esh Alladi as Eli Mossop (image by Mark Brenner)
Durga Hobson (Shalini Peiris) and Eli Mossop (Esh Alladi) on their wedding day (image by Mark Brenner)

Mr Monkey really enjoyed seeing Hobson's Choice, and recommends it to anyone to anyone who wants to see a very funny comedy that's rather like King Lear, only with much more humour and far less death.

Hobson's Choice runs until 6th July 2019.

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