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by Harold Brighouse

Directed by Valerie Clark
February 5, 6 & 7, 2004

Alice Hobson

Sue Worker

Vicky Hobson

Jo Williams

First Customer

Johanna Hughes

Second Customer

Laura Davenport
Maggie Hobson Katy Clifton
Albert Prosser David Bowers

Henry Horatio Hobson

Malcolm Bentote

Mrs. Hepworth

Win Brion

Timmy Wadlow (Tubby)

Blair Taggart
William Mossop Mark Kimsey
Jim Heeler Graeme Gibaut

Ada Figgins

Alison Marshall

Fred Beanstock

Mark Brown

Dr. MacFarlane

Ritchard Tysoe

Programme Notes        [Photographs]

Hobson's Choice
The phrase "Hobson's choice" is proverbial; to have Hobson's choice" is to have no choice at all. Its origin lies in the practice of the seventeenth-century Cambridgeshire horse trader Hobson, whose customers in theory had a free choice but in practice always ended up with the horse nearest the stable door, which was Hobson's choice.

Its origin as the title of a play is told by Ben Iden Payne in his autobiography. After the performance of a play he had directed at the Gaiety Theatre, Brighouse and his fellow writer Stanley Houghton were sharing a drink with Iden Payne in the bar of the Midland Hotel. They asked him why a particular actor, who had given a bad perfpormance, had been chosen for the part:

"My retort was that it had been Hobson's choice; there was no-one else available who would have been any better. . . No sooner had I said this than it occurred to me that the phrase would make a good title for a play. I said so and Houghton and Brighouse agreed. A friendly argument arose as to which of them should be the author of the hypothetical "Hobson's Choice". I suggested they toss a coin. This they did and Brighouse won."
As Houghton was not to die until 1913 and the play was not written until 1914-15, it is clear that the gestation period for the play in Brighouse's imagination was a long one.

Although a prolific and popular playwright and novelist during his lifetime, the reputation of Harold Brighhouse today rests almost entirely on his play Hobson's Choice. Born in Eccles near Salford on 26 July 1882, his mother was a teacher and his father was in the cotton business. Despite gaining a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, not a keen student, at seventeen he left school to start work in the textile industry. The nearby music hall and theatres provided a form of escape from his job, and he soon became obsessed with the theatre.

When he moved to London on business in 1902 his playgoing became voracious and he became a regular attender at the first nights of new plays. "It was a first-nighter's point of honour to miss no first performance. The gallery cost a shilling. Quantity could be coped with."

By now Brighouse was engaged to a fellow theatre-lover. He returned to Manchester to be married but maintained weekly visits to London, combining his cotton business with his pleasure in theatre. During one of these visits, as he describes it, "I saw the first performance of, as it happened, an outrageously bad play" and suddenly realised that in probability he could write a better play himself.

Following an initial rejection, he took advice and wrote a one-act play, (very common at this time). Lonesome-Like was accepted at once by the Manchester Gaiety Theatre and, when staged two years later, clocked over three thousand performances. His output eventually totalled fifty one-act and fifteen full-length plays. Although most of these are firmly rooted in Lancashire, Brighouse nevertheless exhibits a wide range of styles and topics in his work. Thus with The Game (1913), a play about football fanatics, he anticipated modern drama (fictional and factual), while with The Price of Coal (1909), a moving study of mining life, he all but beat D H Lawrence at his own game.

It is for comedy, however, that Brighouse will best be remembered. His own personal favourite play was Lonesome-Like (1911), in which a prototype Willy Mossop character decides not to get married, but adopts a mother instead.

London producers refused the play "Hobson's Choice" in 1915 and Brighouse sent it to his friend in New York where its successful run paved the way for its presentation at The Apollo Theatre, London in 1916.

In addition to playwriting, Brighouse also wrote eight novels. His last major piece, published in 1953 (five years before his death in 1958) was his autobiography, What I Have Had, on the cover of which he was identified as the author of "the famous play Hobson's Choice".

The shoe trade in the 1880s
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, during which Hobson's Choice is set, the footwear industry in Britain was still primarily a handicraft trade. Most shoes were sold from the same premises in which they were made. So important was the shoemaker that every village would have at least one shoemaker, while towns and cities could boast many. Often these were family firms, based within or adjacent to the owner's home and staffed by family members. Until late into the century, almost all shoemaking was still done by hand. Machines weren't used until the 1850s at the earliest.

Family life in the 1880s
Division in society ranged from an elite composed of leading families, through recognised strata down to the 'lowest of the low', or 'simp class'. Shopkeepers, publicans and skilled tradesmen held the premier positions, each family having its own sphere of influence. Those striving to 'get on' tried to ape what the believed were 'real' middle-class manners and customs. Publicans' and shopkeepers' daughters, for instance, set the fashion in clothes for a district.

The real social divide existed between those who, in earning daily bread, dirtied their hands and those who did not. By entering into any business at all a man and his family grew at once in economic status, though social prestige was gained much more slowly.

Modern ideas about the Victorian family system, in which men worked and took up professions, while women were forced to stay at home, are broadly accurate but can be misleading.

Women virtually counted among the possessions of a man (a father or husband) and had very few legal rights and no right to vote. A married woman's wealth belonged to her husband and, with few exceptions, she had no right to divorce. Unless a woman was lucky enough to be independently wealthy, she had little choice but to marry; single women were socially frowned upon.