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Birmingham Royal Ballet - ‘Hobson's Choice’

by David Mead

October 12, 2005 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England

There may have been something of a deluge going on outside, but inside the Hippodrome it was all sunshine and warmth as David Bintley’s ever-popular “Hobson’s Choice” returned to the repertory. This heart-warming northern tale of stubborn, domineering Henry Hobson and his daughter Maggie’s unfolding love for bootmaker Will, was the ideal full-length for BRB’s season celebrating “English” ballet.

The lead roles were taken by the irrepressible Robert Parker and guest dancer Isabel McMeekan, making a welcome return to the Hippodrome stage. Parker makes an ideal Will Mossop. Not only was his dancing sparkling and full of the joy of youth, the role really seems to suit his personality. His characterisation and expression as Will moves from shy, seemingly immature apprentice, through bashful suitor, to confident husband and businessman, was near perfect.

McMeekan, meanwhile, might have been a down-to-earth businesswoman, all stern-faced, prim and proper, but she never lets us forget that love was always just beneath the surface. Indeed, so happy was she at the wedding party that she managed to hurl her wedding bouquet as far as row H in the stalls. Carol-Anne Millar as Vickey Hobson, who was expecting to catch it, gave the poor audience member a look that could have killed!

The supporting cast was in good form too. David Morse is surely one of the best character artists around. His portrayal of Henry Hobson was a delight as was Jonathan Payn’s occasionally goofy Albert Prosser. Special mention needs to be made for the Salvation Army in the park. They may have been campaigning to “drive out the demon drink” but there was no sense of abstinence or holding back in their dancing, especially the men led by Joseph Caley.

The ballet also demonstrated what a talent was lost with Paul Reade’s early death in 1997, aged only 54. A Lancastrian by birth, his score for “Hobson,” full of the sound of brass and references to well-known songs, really gives a sense of time and place. In a scene featuring a drunken Hobson, we hear the strains of “Ten Green Bottles.” Perhaps most appropriate of all is “Lily of Laguna” at Will and Maggie’s wedding party, when Will realises she really is his “lady love.” By this time, Bintley certainly seemed to have been inspired by Reade, but there was only one song left for him to express it: “Far From the Madding Crowd.” One can’t help wondering what else might have been if Reade was still alive today.

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