By: Harold Brighouse
Directed by: Jonathan Church
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Wednesday 22nd August 2007
I love this play, and tonight we saw a very good production of it. The set was the shop floor which covered about two-thirds of the stage, with the outer third showing us the street outside. Before the start, someone was working with some boots or some such in the gloom, and a big grid with boots hanging off it was all around him. I guess this was suggesting the basement workshop in Hobson’s shop. In the run up to the start, this grid was lifted, and the chap disappeared off stage. I suspect he was Dylan Charles, who plays Willie Mossop, as he told us later in the post-show that he’d done some leather working in preparation for the role. (Didn’t think to ask if it was him, sorry.)
Once the grid was up, we could see the shop interior properly. It was a beautifully detailed setting, with lots of boots on the shelves, and various boxes etc. To our right, near the front of the stage, was a tall desk with the account books, and there was a small settee to our left, with a few plain chairs here and there. The shop door was far left, and the entrance to the living area was to our right.
The plot is straightforward so I won’t cover it again, but I will say that as well as enjoying the performances, I was reminded of how well written and structured the play is. I noticed how, in the final act, the sisters set us up to really appreciate the change in Willie, by going on about how timid they know him to be. I could also see the echoes of Shakespeare – The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear. The only weakness appeared to be John Savident as Hobson, who didn’t seem to have all his lines fully at his command, though as he was playing drunk some of the time, it didn’t always matter so much. Willie and Maggie (Carolyn Backhouse) were excellent, and the rest of the cast played their parts, even the small ones, to the hilt. This was a really good night out, and I hope they do well on tour.
At the post-show there was some silliness about how authentic the accents were – given that they were attempting to recreate the spoken Lancashire of the period I’m amazed anyone wanted to complain, but Northerners can be so touchy! The cast had done some individual research, and we found out that it was only ten years before the action of the play that a law had been passed forbidding men from beating their wives or daughters, making more sense of some of the comments early on about how useful it is to have a wife to keep daughters in line. The cast seemed to be very well integrated, and everyone joined in. I got the impression they’re all impressed by this play, and enjoying doing it. Good luck on tour!
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me