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Theatre Review Really choice

PAUL FOLEY sees an excellent new version of a classic Harold Brighouse comedy

Hobson’s Choice
Royal Exchange, Manchester

THIS production of Hobson’s Choice is like no other — and it’s an absolute cracker.

Much of this is down to Tanika Gupta’s clever, slick and very funny adaptation which sets the play in 1988 and relocates the action a couple of miles across the River Irwell to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

In it, refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda Hari Hobson has built up a successful tailoring business in Manchester. Despite his high standing in the city’s Asian community, the real brains behind the business is his daughter Durga.

But Hari’s life is spinning out of control. A widower with three sparky and independent daughters and living in a world that he no longer understands, he takes refuge in the Crown and Kettle pub, where he can reminisce about his importance to the Asian Small Business Association.

Though emboldened with liquor, his desperate attempts to re-assert his authority are doomed to failure.

Adaptations of classic works can be a tricky business for playwrights and, given the special local significance of Harold Brighouse’s play to Salford and Manchester, setting it in 1988 and within the Asian community is either extremely brave or incredibly reckless.

It’s a mark of Gupta’s talent that she effortlessly transfers Hobson’s Choice into a very different culture from Brighouse’s original work without losing any of its bite and humour.

But her fine adaptation is only part of the success of this wonderful production. Atri Banerjee’s excellent direction whips the action along at a brisk pace, with the jokes coming fast and furiously and the whole cast is outstanding.

Shalini Peiris is fabulous as the determined and feisty Durga. Moulded from the same cloth as her father, she bosses everyone into submission, especially her poor husband Ali, given a smashing performance from Ash Allady.

Unlike most portrayals of Henry Hobson, Tony Jayawardena’s Hari not only has the recognisably boozy and boorish traits, he also has a vulnerability which adds an unusually sympathetic side to the sexist old curmudgeon.

Perfect entertainment for a world gone mad — for two-and-a-half hours you can sit back, forget the strife around you and wallow in a truly wonderful show.

Runs until July 6, box office: royalexchange.co.uk

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