Hobson’s Choice, the ballet, was first premiered in February 1989 at the Royal Opera House, London. It is not a ballet score that I know well but I do know the story of Hobson’s Choice and thought it was admirably bold of the Hong Kong Arts Festival to bring this staging by the Birmingham Royal Ballet to the city. Typically the better known classical ballets are received well in Asia. While last night’s performance wasn’t sold out, I was delighted to see many local children and teenagers at the theatre.
While I am no technical expert of ballet, this performance remains light hearted throughout with some imaginative choreography, including Morris dancing, waltzes and tap, as well as great comic timing. The first Act opens with an atmospheric set depicting a bootmaker’s shop in the early 1900’s and we soon meet all of the main characters. Henry Hobson staggers onto the stage blind drunk; his two younger daughters are clearly in disdain of him; their suitors arrive to woo them; Hobson’s eldest daughter, Maggie, is unsentimental but wishes to marry, much to her father’s dismissal; and by the end of the first Act, Maggie proposes to Will Mossop, the poor, unassuming but talented bootmaker at Hobson’s shop.
My favourite part of this performance is the second Act, set in a park on a Sunday afternoon. Here we see the Salvation Army with their brass band preaching temperance, via music and dancing, amidst the strolling couples and mothers with children. There are some sumptuous dances in this Act providing much delight and laughter to the audience. Equally delightful is the third Act when Maggie and Will celebrate their wedding with her sisters and their suitors. Will’s awkwardness when it comes to getting ready for bed with his newly wed wife isn’t just amusing for the adults in the audience but the younger members of the audience will have enjoyed it too.
A big thumbs up to Ambra Vallo and Jamie Bond for their wonderful portrayals of Maggie Hobson and Will Mossop respectively. Ambra’s Maggie is unsentimental and pragmatic but, despite these, she deftly shows us her deep feelings for Will. Jamie Bond is smashing as the hapless Will Mossop who needs a strong woman to force him make his way in the world. His awkwardness and shyness – especially in contrast to the other sisters’ more sophisticated suitors – make us both laugh at him while wanting to protect him at the same time. We also get to see the famous Marion Tait as the rich customer who lends money to Maggie and Will to help them to set up their own business.
My one criticism of this performance is the portrayal of delirium tremens where some of the characters come onto the stage wearing rat masks. It isn’t obvious enough for the audience to understand why these characters are in rat masks and this scene verges on the theatre of the absurd.
Finally, a friendly piece of advice to Hong Kong Cultural Centre which was the venue for this ballet. It is no point having signs all over the venue saying that latecomers will not be admitted and then to continue to let latecomers in throughout the first Act. I found this immensely distracting just as I wanted to settle into the ballet. Additionally, there was an intermission after the first Act (which, incidentally, only lasted for about 30 mins or so) and I could not understand why these latecomers weren’t firmly told to wait till the start of the second Act.
Hobson’s Choice by Birmingham Royal Ballet was performed at the Hong Kong Arts Festival from 18 to 20 February.