Hobson’s Choice

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Innovative adaptations and the Royal Exchange Theatre go hand in hand; just looking at this week’s Autumn/Winter programme announcement confirms the theatre’s reputation as bold decision makers who delight in mixing things up. Interestingly Hobson’s Choice doesn’t relocate too far from its Salford origins, settling on the streets of a fledgling Northern Quarter but it’s reimagining by playwright Tanika Gupta brings a fresh vibrancy to this classic Northern comedy. The Hobson’s are now an enterprising Ugandan-Asian family running a tailor’s business in the city’s 1980’s backstreets thanks to the diamonds Mrs Hobson (then Patel) managed to smuggle out of Uganda in a batch of pakoras.

Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) is a firm believer in what we’d now describe as wildly out-dated attitudes, his social standing means the world to him, a world in which he thinks women should be seen but preferably not heard and that at age 30 any female is well and truly past her prime. He delights in reminding his daughters that it is indeed a man’s world whilst he attempts to keep up appearances as head of the household despite it being clear for all to see that eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris) clearly rules the roost.

His second generation daughters are desperate to break the mould, led by eldest sister Durga who has grown increasingly sick and tired of being the brains behind the business with little in gratitude or reward.

Tanika Gupta’s innovative adaptation enriches the story with well-timed humour, sparkling exchanges and touching sincerity which are made all the better by the well-researched Ugandan-Asian historical references. The strength of the cast is key to the success of this piece with each and every cast member giving a performance that is second to none.

Tony Jayawardena is outstanding as the ill-tempered family patriarch Hari who revels in his adopted Britishness yet despairs when his daughters attempt to explore their new culture. His comedic timing is perfection particularly during his superb exchanges with eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris). They butt heads throughout with both hilarious and touching consequences.

Shakini Peiris is commanding as determined and hardworking Durga, the real innovator in the family. She convinces entirely as ambitions Durga whilst achieving a relatable balance of frustration and love for her infuriating father.

Special mention must go to Esh Alladi whose portrayal of introverted tailor Ali Mossop is an absolute joy. The journey he goes on is remarkable, starting out as a quaking bundle of nerves he is shaped with genuine tenderness by Durga, never losing his warmth and innocent charm and providing the audience with some of the best laugh out loud moments in the production.

Rosa Maggiora’s set design uses the Exchange’s unique space to great effect with Matt Haskins lighting design adding atmosphere and depth to proceedings.

This brilliantly portrayed and beautifully developed comedy piles on the laughs while director Atri Banerjee also ensures the moments of calm and consideration are allowed to gently develop. Family life in all its ugly complexities and wonderful contradictions are exposed in this delightful production. There is very little to criticise here, a slight lull in pace during Act II perhaps but this really is a minor quibble. This is an innovative and fresh take on a classic Northern tale with storytelling brought to beautiful and brilliant life by a skilled cast and creative team. Uplifting and joyous theatre told with true heart.

Catch Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 6th July tickets available here.

 

Interview | Joseph Houston | The Exonerated

The Exonerated Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill Theatre’s 2nd in-house play directed by the theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Joseph Houston is set to open its doors this week. The Exonerated takes inspiration from the true crime documentary genre and will blend live theatre with filmed footage to create a unique, fully integrated multimedia experience.

Written in 2002 by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen The Exonerated uses material from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record tells the true stories of six wrongfully-convicted survivors of death row in their own words.

The innovative production which moves between first-person monologues, courtrooms and prisons promises audiences a uniquely different theatrical experience.

We caught up with director Joseph Houston to hear a little more about what audiences can expect from this bold production.

The Exonerated in rehearsal 3. Director Joseph Houston Hope Mill Theatre

Tell us about The Exonerated, and how you first became familiar with the piece?

Over a year ago I was recommended by a friend to read The Exonerated. This particular friend, for as long as I have known them, has always been an advocate and supporter of abolishing the death sentence in the U.S. When I first read it, I was immediately captivated and moved by these real life stories. At the same time I was also watching some popular true crime documentaries and felt that there was a new and exciting way of reimagining the piece for Hope Mill Theatre.

What about it made you think it would be perfect for a fresh adaptation at Hope Mill?

This will be the Northern Premiere of The Exonerated, which in itself is extremely exciting for the city. To date we haven’t had anything of this scale which merges both film and live theatre in such an integrated way – so it’s very exciting for us to be bringing something new to our audiences. Due to the nature of incorporating the true crime documentary style we are also hoping to attract new audiences to the venue who aren’t necessarily theatregoers.

Are you fan of the ‘true crime’ genre that’s currently very popular on TV streaming services? What made you think it could be the inspiration for a new piece of theatre?

I am a huge fan of true crime documentaries. Firstly, I find them completely fascinating and so far removed from anything that our culture and country is familiar with. There is so much that inspires me and moves me to share these incredible stories of Injustice and wrong-doing. I think the most important thing is that these are human stories of perseverance and human strength and resilience. I feel that with the popularity of these sorts of documentaries there was an opportunity to merge this with live theatre.

As a director, what are you most looking forward to re bringing The Exonerated to the stage in Manchester?

I am really looking forward to bringing a whole new theatrical experience to Manchester audiences. The staging of this piece means that audiences who like true crime but don’t necessarily go to theatre can also enjoy the play. Audiences will also get to hear these passionate real stories come to life.

And what might be the challenges?

I have never worked with film before and also with actors on film – so this will be a new challenge for me. It will also be very challenging merging live theatrical flashbacks with filmed footage and making sure that these important stories are still portrayed with care and thought. I am working with Grant Archer – a fabulous filmographer – so i have a great team around me.

Tell us about the cast who will be bringing these stories to life?

“I am so thrilled with the amazingly diverse cast we have found for The Exonerated. Many of our filmed actors have incredible experience and I know they will really capture the documentary style filming as well as make these heart-wrenching stories very real. We have also managed to assemble an exciting group of actors who will play live in the production and multi-role many different characters to help bring these stories to life.”

Hope Mill has become renowned for its critically-acclaimed musicals. How different is putting on a straight play?

To date we have been producing musicals in-house and this will be our second in-house play. Musicals are much bigger beasts and there are a lot more factors and elements involved in putting it all together- so it is nice to focus mainly on the story and narrative of the piece without having to worry about mics, bands, choreography etc. However, this will still be a visual spectacle and the production values are just the same as one of our large musicals.

Can you tell us a bit more about what audiences to The Exonerated might be able to expect?

This is 6 real life stories, from 6 people who spent time living on death row for crimes they did not commit. These are heartbreaking stories told in a completely unique way. I want audiences to feel that they are in the comfort of their own homes simply watching their T.V but with all of the drama and intensity of live theatre.

The Exonerated (1)

The Exonerated, directed by Joseph Houston, runs at Hope Mill Theatre from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 16 June 2019. Tickets, from £10, available here.

 

Club Tropicana

 

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The cheesy, cheery and oh so cheeky Club Tropicana sashayed its way into Manchester this week taking audiences right back to the 80’s with an outrageously camp night of good natured theatre escapism.

Bride Lorraine’s (Karina Hind) hair may be big but her doubts are even bigger as with a little help from her friends she decides to play runaway bride and head to her honeymoon with the girls for some sun, sea and soul searching.

Heartbroken groom Olly doesn’t need much convincing that a little break in the sunshine could be what he needs to forget being jilted at the alter and you guessed it, heads with his pals to the same hotel! Add to this their arrival coincides with that of a mystery hotel inspector, hotel owners who are secretly in love and an ill-tempered Spanish housekeeper and you’ve got a great recipe for a night of hilarious mischief and raucous mayhem.

Fan favourite Joe McElderry is at the helm of the production as entertainment host Garry; camp, colourful and absolutely chockfull of charisma he is every inch a star performer. From teaching the audience a Macarena style dance routine at the start of Act I to leading the cast in an 80’s singalong he more than rises to the occasion. Oozing charm and bursting with talent his panto style interaction is lapped up while he takes every opportunity to prove what a vocal talent he is in the multiple 80’s classics which come thick and fast in this jukebox jape.

Club Trop 2

Kate Robbins is hilarious as Spanish housekeeper Consuela, full of sarcasm and dry wit she proves what a talented character actress she is, her scene stealing performance is lapped up by the audience who are treated to several of her most loved impersonations.

Former Sugababe Amelle Berrabah is in fine voice as hotel owner Serena, her strong vocals if anything are a little underused while Nye Rees does a fine job of covering for Neil McDermott who is unable to perform tonight.

Club Trop 1

Nick Winston’s choreography adds sass to the production and offers something visually solid when the paper thin plot needs a boost. The ensemble scenes are high energy and delivered with enthusiasm and precision by the incredibly talented cast.

Shakespeare is it not, nor is it trying to be and judging by the riotous standing ovation Club Tropicana will keep audiences entertained even when the drinks aren’t free. While the plot may be as shallow as a paddling pool and as predictable as Brits abroad tucking into a full English the audience are getting exactly what they came for, feel-good, frivolous fun and are loving every minute of it.

Club Tropicana is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 8th June, tickets available here.