Family troubles

Timothy Ramsden

HOBSON'S CHOICE. By Harold Brighouse Chichester Festival Theatre.

Uppishness is on the up from the very start chez Hobson as his daughters bat not an eyelid when they believe he's approaching.

Just one beauty of Frank Hauser's production is its distinction between Lisa Hollander's slow Alice and the waspish Vickey of Diana Morrison. Later, there's a similar separation of Simon Shaw's posing Albert Prosser, ready for instant advocacy and the more amenable tradesman of Graham Pountney's Fred Beenstock.

Amid such bumptiousness it's no wonder Leo McKern's performance increases in stature as his Hobson, a man more put upon than imposing, diminishes in status. But the wonder of this evening is Nichola McAuliffe's Maggie. Brighouse was always one for strong lasses but McAuliffe gives vulnerable depths to the character.

More thirty-something than plain three decades, she's clearly hurt by father placing her on the shelf - and hits back painfully at him. Her proposal to Will Mossop is born of a frustration with her dead-end life and she's as nervous as he is; their departure to bed on the wedding night is no assertive ear-pulling. They wander off hand in hand like Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest.

Graham Turner is a fine Mossop and Hauser hits happy notes - McAuliffe punches the air in delight at her success and enjoys her sister's surprise. And Will's victory over the shop's new name fittingly forms Hobson's final collapse.

In repertory to July 20. Runs 212 hours. Tickets: 01243 781312.

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