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Hobson's Choice (play)

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Title: Hobson's Choice (play)  
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Subject: Chichester Festival production history, 1916 plays, Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, Norman McKinnel, John Savident
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Hobson's Choice (play)

Hobson's Choice is a play by Harold Brighouse, the title taken from the popular expression, Hobson's choice — meaning no choice at all (from Thomas Hobson 1545–1631 who ran a thriving livery stable in Cambridge).

The first production was at the Princess Theatre in New York. It then transferred to London on 24 June 1916 at the Apollo Theatre, before moving to the Prince of Wales Theatre on 20 November 1916 (starring Norman McKinnel). The play was adapted for film several times and as a Broadway musical. The Crucible Theatre Sheffield staged a revival in June 2011 directed by Christopher Luscombe and starring Barrie Rutter, Zoe Waites and Philip McGinley.

The story is set in Salford in 1880. It bears many resemblances to the stories of Cinderella and King Lear: Deceased mother; three daughters, two of whom are pretty and frivolous, the third of whom is clever and hardworking; a fairy godmother (Mrs. Hepworth).[1]


  • Roles 1
  • Plot 2
  • Adaptations 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


  • Henry Horatio Hobson
  • Maggie Hobson (Hobson's oldest daughter)
  • Alice Hobson (Hobson's daughter)
  • Vickey Hobson (Hobson's daughter)
  • Mrs. Hepworth (a wealthy customer of Hobson's)
  • William Mossop (Maggie Hobson's conquest, with whom she eventually develops love)
  • Albert Prosser (a lawyer; in love with Alice)
  • Fred Beenstock (in love with Vickey)
  • Timothy “Tubby” Wadlow
  • Hisham Heeler
  • Ada Figgins
  • Dr. MacFarlane


A cobbler, Henry Hobson, has three daughters: Maggie, Alice and Vickey. The daughters work in the shop unpaid. Hobson spends his time drinking with the fellow members of the masons at the 'Moonrakers' pub.

One day, Mrs Hepworth, a rich customer of Hobson, demands to know who made her boots: it is Hobson's underpaid bootmaker, Will Mossop. She insists that all her and her daughters' boots must from now on be made by Will, and tells him to inform her if ever he should leave Hobson's. Maggie, who is a talented businesswoman and considered too old and plain to marry, proposes marriage to Will. Will reluctantly agrees. When Hobson comes back, she tells him that she intends to marry Will, but he laughs at her, and threatens to beat Will for courting her. At this, Will leaves the shop, and Maggie goes with him. They borrow £100 from Mrs Hepworth, set up a shop on their own, and marry as soon as the banns of marriage have been called.

A month later, Hobson falls into the warehouse belonging to the father of Fred Beenstock, Vickey's love. Maggie comes back to tell her sisters that she is going to marry them off herself. Hobson has refused to settle any money on them, without which they are unlikely to find decent husbands. With the help of lawyer Albert Prosser, Alice's love, they issue a writ claiming damages from Hobson for trespass, damage to corn sacks and spying on trade secrets. Hobson eventually agrees to pay, the money is settled on the girls and they can now get married.

Thanks to Will's skill as a bootmaker and Maggie's business acumen, their shop is very successful and, within a year, they have taken nearly all of Hobson's trade. Hobson is almost bankrupt and drinking himself to death. After an attack of delirium tremens, he asks each of his daughters to look after him. They all refuse, but eventually Maggie agrees to do so provided that Will takes over his business, with Hobson remaining as a 'sleeping partner' only.


Film and television

The play has been filmed several times, originally as a silent film in 1920, with Joan Ritz as Maggie and Arthur Pitt as her father. It was filmed again with sound in 1931, with James Harcourt as Hobson, Frank Pettingell as Mossop, Joan Maude as Alice, and Viola Lyel as Maggie. The best-known film version is that of 1954 directed by David Lean. It starred Charles Laughton as Hobson and Brenda De Banzie as Maggie. John Mills played Will Mossop, Maggie's suitor, and Prunella Scales made her second film appearance as Vicky Hobson.

It was Americanized in the 1983 TV version, set in 1914 New Orleans, starring Jack Warden as Hobson, Sharon Gless as Maggie, and Richard Thomas as Will. It was broadcast on CBS TV on December 21, 1983. The New York Times review summarized the story line thus: "Burt Prelutsky's script transposes the setting to New Orleans, and the year, for whatever arbitrary reason, is 1914. Henry Horatio Hobson, owner of a successful shoe store, is still a carousing drunk, complaining about how fate has saddled him with three daughters. Maggie, his eldest, can barely conceal her contempt for daddy's more outrageous ways, and she is determined to get out from under his domination. As her vehicle toward that end, she chooses Will, a gentle and illiterate master shoemaker working in Hobson's basement." The review goes on:"Much of the problem would seem to be rooted in the casting. Jack Warden is an accomplished actor but he is at his best in the big-city settings of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. He is not terribly persuasive as a New Orleans gentleman, albeit a drunken one. Sharon Gless is more successful with Maggie, giving the character an admirably unyielding integrity. But her performance doesn't quite jibe with that of Richard Thomas as Will."[2]


The 1966 Broadway musical Walking Happy is based on the play.[3]


An English ballet adaptation of the same title, with choreography by David Bintley and music by Paul Reade, premiered on 13 February 1989 by Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, London.[4][5] A video production of the ballet has been seen on television broadcasts, and released on DVD.[6]


  1. ^ Peck, Russell, A. Bibliography"Cinderella". University of Rochester Libraries, accessed January 19, 2011
  2. ^ O'Connor, John J. "TV: 'Hobson's Choice,' An Adaptation On CBS" The New York Times, December 21, 1983, p. C27
  3. ^ Kerr, Walter. Review, "New York Times", November 28, 1966, p. 47
  4. ^ "PR: Birmingham Royal Ballet's 2011 Tour To Hong Kong", January 6, 2011
  5. ^ Abad-Carles, Ana "Birmingham Royal Ballet, 'Hobson's Choice' " Ballet-Dance Magazine, December 2005
  6. ^ "'Hobson's Choice', Studio: ARTHAUS DVD, Release Date: 2 May 2006", accessed January 30, 2011

External links

  • Project Gutenberg ebook
  • Hobson's Choice at the Internet Broadway Database
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