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humour, sparkling exchanges and touching sincerity which are made all the better by the well-researched Ugandan-Asian historical references.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.