Bolton’s latest nod to all-things Northern comes in the classic Brighouse tale, Hobson’s Choice. Set in Salford, Lancashire at the turn of last century, Harold Brighouse’s play has been his enduring legacy. This tale is taken from the saying of the same name, believed to have begun when Mr Thomas Hobson ran a successful livery and offered his customers the choice of one stable or none at all.

The first production was seen at the Apollo Theatre in 1916 but it was also the subject of the successful 1953 David Lean film starring Charles Laughton. Nearly 100 years on, the play still attracts faithful audiences who relish the quick wit and traditional sensibilities.

Artistic director David Thacker has created a loving representation of the period with a tremendous cast in tow. Maxwell Hutcheon makes a believable Henry Hobson, if a little cuddly, so that when his anger erupts his tirade elicits the need to offer out a big hug rather than run and hide in fear.

The performances are a little uneven with some of the actors seeming a little modern for this period piece and the floor is creaky, cheap-looking and knackered (the show has been running for one week only) but none of this really distracts enough to mar what is a very solid production.

Natalie Grady as the venomous, smart and sassy Maggie Hobson is just the right mixture of hard-nosed ambitiousness and sensibility so that there is a huge amount of respect for the character and her choices.

Praise also for Jessica Baglow and Rosie Jones as the other sisters, desperate for marriage. But the night has to go to Michael Shelford, a newcomer to the Octagon stage, whose Willie Mossop has the audience in hysterics.

This should be a firm favourite in Bolton and there’s a relatively full house on the Tuesday night when Northern Soul visits. Proof that the Octagon knows and cares for its audiences and gives them exactly what they want.

Next up, Twelfth Night.

By Lucia Cox

Images by Ian Tilton

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What: Hobson’s Choice

Where: The Octagon, Bolton

When: until February 22, 2014

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