By Harold Brighouse
Royal Exchange Theatre, 5 June 2019
A kind of quotidian magic.
Tanika Gupta’s re-imagining of Harold Brighouse’s Edwardian comedy – setting it in Manchester’s Northern Quarter in the 1980s and making the protagonists an Asian family recently arrived from Uganda – works wonderfully well.
It is at once a queer sort of romance (very brisk and business-like), a boisterous comedy and a hard-headed look at life’s robust limitations. Here the Asian family run a tailor’s shop, and the person you are drawn to most of all is Durga Hobson (Shalini Peiris), the eldest daughter. She is the brains behind the business, not to mention the hardest grafter out of all of them, besides having to contend with her father swanning around as a sort of titular figurehead, though frankly he is more often than not to be found off down the pub. Networking, it is called. What you glean about Durga is that, as well as being direct and down to earth, she is generous and (whisper it softly in her presence) a mite vulnerable.
Hobson’s Choice is in many respects an unpretentious, even a pedestrian play. But it also has a kind of quotidian magic. It is one of those plays where, as circumstances change in the surrounding world, people also are driven to change – or they fail to do so. In slo-mo, fates are revealed. Some people adapt and prosper, others fall by the wayside. Some show mettle and strength, while some are weak or callous toward others.
There are terrific performances here from a talented cast – not least from Esh Alladi as Ali Mossop. A wholly engrossing, highly entertaining evening’s theatre.
Hobson’s Choice is showing at the Royal Exchange until 6 July, further details can be found here.