Hobson’s Choice by the Lancashire playwright Harold Brighouse is far and away the most enduring and loved of all the plays of the Manchester school of sentimental realism. Initially it was turned down by London theatre managers who had a prejudice against regional writers, and it didn’t arrive in the West End until a successful premiere in New York in 1915.
The comedy, set in Salford in the 1880s, is given a charming revival by Jonathan Church at Vaudeville Theatre. Maggie Hobson (a steely Naomi Frederick), who works in her father’s shoe shop and is already an old maid at 30, decides that, if she is not to remain a spinster, she will have to marry Willie Mossop, her father’s master bootmaker. With her brains and his hands, she reckons they would make an unbeatable commercial team.
The bossy Maggie, used to getting her own way, proposes – one of theatre’s great comic love scenes – and Mossop (a resigned Bryan Dick) finds he is engaged to be married whether he likes it or not. Martin Shaw’s tyrannical patriarch is a spent force, much given to actorish bluster.
Robert Taylor and David Wood’s musical adaptation of LP Hartley’s classic novel The Go-Between at Apollo Theatre is not a West End musical; it’s a chamber drama and much nearer to opera. There is only one musician: a pianist at a grand piano on stage. The producers clearly hope that Michael Crawford will bring in the public. He plays a man in his sixties, remembering events that happened to him when he was a 13-year-old in 1900. An upper-class girl and a tenant farmer, having a clandestine affair, used him as a secret messenger boy to deliver their love letters.
The sad story, affectingly sung and acted, touches the heart. There are remarkable performances by two 13-year-olds, William Thompson and Archie Stevens. The imaginative and poetic staging is by Roger Haines.
Alexei Kaye Campbell’s Sunset at the Villa Thalia at National Theatre, directed by Simon Godwin and well cast, is an entertaining critique of American intervention and those who take advantage of it. A young playwright and his actress wife (Sam Crane and Pippa Nixon) are holidaying in the Greek islands when they bump into an American diplomat (Ben Miles) who bullies them into buying the peasant cottage they are renting. The Greeks who own it are emigrating to Australia and are short of money. The English couple get the house at a bargain price and are shamed for their greed.
The Broadway musical Aladdin at Prince Edward Theatre is for audiences who only go to the theatre once a year, to see a pantomime. The stage version, much inferior to the Walt Disney animated movie, is tacky but in an extremely expensive way. The dazzling costumes alone must have cost a fortune. The production has bags of meaningless energy but little else. Trevor Dion Nicholas works very hard as the Genie.
Greek tragedies are short; but Krzysztof Warlikowski’s touring production of Phaedra(s) for Odeon Theatre de L’Europe (at the Barbican) lasts three-and-a-half hours. Isabelle Huppert, an actress of the first rank, has undeniable presence and stamina. But why stage this boring hodgepodge by three modern authors when she could be acting Racine?