The Theatreguide.London Review
Vaudeville Theatre Summer 2016
One of the British theatre's minor masterpieces, Harold Brighouse's 1915 comedy belongs to that collection of perfectly-constructed comedies and dramas that can always be relied on to offer satisfying and undemanding entertainment along with showcase roles for established stars or stars in the making.
In this case it's a domestic comedy that announces where it's going in the opening scene and then marches confidently forward, carrying us happily along with it.
The old maid – that is to say, 30 year old – daughter of a tyrannical and gregariously alcoholic Lancashire shoe merchant sets her eye on her father's best apprentice shoemaker, spotting somewhere in the mouse the man she will be able to turn him into.
And in rapid and inexorable succession she wins and weds him, defies her father, arranges happy marriages for her younger sisters, and brings out all the authority and confidence she alone had sensed in her husband.
The considerable fun of the play lies in watching this irresistible force plough her way through all obstacles, repeatedly leaving everyone – including father and husband – reeling in wonder at what just struck them.
If there is one central – but, as it proves, not serious – flaw in Jonathan Church's revival of this well-oiled laughter machine, it is that (as I hope my description has indicated) this is really the daughter Maggie's play, and the production has been built around Martin Shaw as the father.
It's a bit like a production of Hamlet in which the actor playing Claudius is the star – it doesn't seriously damage the play, but just gives it a slightly odd tilt.
Certainly Martin Shaw inhabits the old rogue with ease and confident authority – watch how he even sits down in a chair in character.
If there is any criticism to be made it is that he makes the father a little too loveable an old rogue, removing any danger from the character, and leaving daughter Maggie with no real opposition.
The comic backbone of the play is watching Maggie ride roughshod over any obstacles, and letting the father be a little more of an obstacle would increase the fun of her invincibility.
Naomi Frederick does not bring the ready-made aura of an established star to the role of Maggie, and is all the more impressive for grabbing and holding the play's centre without it.
Her Maggie combines the no-nonsense practicality of a true northerner with the unwavering assurance that everything she says and does is right and anyone who doesn't see that is a fool – a quality that carries touches of madness in it and that would be scary were she not repeatedly proven right.
Bryan Dick finds all the fun in young Willie's confusion at being caught up in this whirlwind, even when he cannot see in himself what his bride sees in him.
It might have been nice if director Church had guided him toward allowing us earlier glimpses of the man-to-be inside the mouse, so we didn't have to rely entirely on Maggie's unsubstantiated confidence in him until the very last scene.
But the mouse is fun to watch, with even the way he stammers over words like 'wife' generating delight.
Hobson's Choice delivers all that it promises – a light and undemanding couple of hours of entertainment for a summer's night.
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