Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 12th November, 2017
Harold Brighouse’s classic comedy first appeared in 1916 when the tide of women’s suffrage was running high. Set in 1880, it tells of Hobson, a widower and owner of a shoe shop, seeking liberation from the three grown-up daughters who work in his shop without pay, so he can have some peace and quiet. He sets to marrying off the younger two – the eldest, at the advanced age of 30 is beyond hope, he feels. This eldest, Maggie, takes matters into her own hands by browbeating the timid on-site shoemaker into marrying her. She then orchestrates matters so that her sisters are able to wed the men of their choosing, manipulating their father until he is worse off than when he started.
The script still sparkles with sarcastic barbs and acerbic observations and feels fresher than any episode of Open All Hours penned in more recent years.
As blustering, boozing patriarch Hobson, the mighty Colin Simmonds gives a majestic performance in a superb characterisation. The timing is impeccable; the nuances and the broader moments provide a masterclass in comic acting. He is matched by two fellow leads: Kimberley Cormack as the level-headed, assertive and somewhat Machiavellian Maggie in a formidable display – you wouldn’t want to cross her; and James David Knapp is endearing and extremely funny as the timid and shy cobbler, Willy Mossop. You wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, so to speak.
Between them, these three bring the play to remarkable life and they are supported by a strong team of players: Notably, Amy Thompson as Vickey, Emily Jane Carey as Alice, Carl Foster as Fred Beenstock, and Damien Dickens as Albert Prosser. There are memorable cameo appearances from Jo Thackwray as the haughty Mrs Hepworth and Brian Wilson as Hobson’s drinking buddy, Jim.
Faye Rowse’s set design evokes the period stylishly and effectively, while Angela Daniels’s costumes reveal not only the characters’ status but also the changes in their fortunes as the action unfolds. Charlotte Robinson’s hazy lighting suggests gas- or candlelight. Director Les Stringer hits all the comedic hotspots while maintaining the emotional truth of the situations.
Thoroughly engaging and massively entertaining, this is a splendid production of a masterpiece and is a ‘shoe-in’ for one of my favourites of the year.