Hobson's Choice

Harold Brighouse, in a new adaptation by Tanika Gupta
Young Vic
(2003)

Designer Ultz has already ripped the Royal Court apart for Fallen. He has not stopped there. Not only has he completely redesigned the Young Vic's auditorium for director Richard Jones, he has also borrowed the local hall, Upstream, and built an extra space there.

Jones has always liked to make a visual impact in both theatre and opera. With the main house converted into a wide factory showroom in Salford with workshop beneath and kitchen to the side, Ultz seemed to have surpassed himself. Add in the welding shed and portaloo across The Cut and he is in danger of stealing the show.

That show started in 1914 as a play about working class life in Salford in 1880 and is most famous for David Lean's film version starring Charles Laughton and Sir John Mills.

In Tanika Gupta's adaptation, it is updated to the current time but stays in Salford. Harry Hobson becomes immigrant Hari who has anglicised himself by taking the name of the factory that he owns.

His three rebellious daughters try to escape the kind of fundamentalist patriarchal tyranny that would be unbelievable amongst the locals today. This is similar territory to that explored by Ayub Khan Din in East is East.

The subject matter of three daughters acting as forced labour for their drunken, lazy father causes something of a problem with its dated feel. Even with an Asian subtext, the trapped daughters dreaming of escape, staple artistic subjects for generations, are now, thankfully rarities.

Paul Battacharjee is good as the impotent, toothy Hari. He is a traditionalist who has no answers when his daughters, led by the excellent Yasmin Wilde as the all too competent Durga, go onto the offensive.

The other two girls and their wimpy boyfriends are really only caricatures and the religious tensions of a Hindu father seeing his daughters marrying a Musselman and two local lads are only explored at a surface level.

The relationships between the bullying Durga, her pathetic husband who becomes a lion, Richard Sumitro's Ali and Hari are central to this comic play and the way in which each is transformed makes it worth seeing. The cliché of the three sari-clad daughters becoming Asian Charlie's Angels looks good but is somewhat predictable.

Ultimately, the winner is Ultz. His colourful designs for both sets and costumes are fantastic and help to make a minor classic with an interesting new concept something a little more spectacular.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher