Monday, 31 March 2014

Hobson's Choice

It's story book time!  Well - play storybook anyway.

After the week of get in mayhem and madness we were somehow, finally ready to go on stage with Hobson's Choice.  I was playing the part of Alice, the biggest role I have ever had with the Players and had an absolute whale of a time with her.  She is (I hope) completely unlike me; a spoilt, selfish, bratty madam who sulks and stamps when she doesn't get her own way.  Sinead's character, Vicky, was very similar to mine and neither of us could understand how on earth either of them attracted husbands, or why Maggie would go out of her way to help them when they are just so ungrateful and undeserving of assistance!  I'm getting ahead of myself here though.

Numbers were fantastic, with all three nights nearly full and the Saturday completely sold out - a very exciting and nerve wracking situation to be in!
I also got to wear some pretty impressive costumes!  I was lucky - both of mine were too big for me and I had no breathing problems at all but some of the others were rather tight!  However, in the final act I did have to act under the biggest hat I have ever seen.  You couldn't actually see my face underneath it! It's amazing how a corset and a bustle affect the way you stand, move and walk, I found my posture was a lot better this week!

Hobson's Choice is set in Salford near Manchester in the 1880's and centers around Henry Horatio Hobson, the owner and master of a shoe shop.  Hobson has three daughters, the eldest is the practical and responsible Maggie, and the two younger daughters are Alice and Vickey.  All three daughters work in the shop for no wages, although Alice and Vickey, according to their father are both 'mostly window dressing in the shop' whilst Maggie is useful, 'too valuable to part with' and 'a wonder at selling in the shop'.
Also working in the shop are Willie Mossop and Tubby Wadlow, the two shoe and boot makers.  Willie, undervalued and overlooked by Hobson and sneered at by Alice and Vickey, is recognised by Maggie to be 'a marvel in the workshop'.

One day Alice's beau, the lawyer Albert Prosser comes into the shop to court Alice.  Maggie, being ever practical, doesn't allow any time or contact between the two and instead sells a bemused and out-of-his-depth Albert a pair of shoes before kicking him out of the shop.  An irate Alice points out to Maggie that, at 30, she is over the hill but Alice and Vickey still have a chance at making a good match.
Hobson then comes into the shop, nursing a hangover and late.  He is fed up with his daughters 'uppishness' and irreverent behaviour towards him and threatens that, unless they grow more respectful and stop wagging their bustles down the street, dragging his good name through the mud, he will choose husbands for both Alice and Vickey, much to their dismay at not being able to choose for themselves.  When Maggie asks why Hobson isn't selecting a husband for her as well all three dissolve into laughter at the idea of an old maid like Maggie getting married at her time in life. 
Further conversation is halted by the arrival of Mrs Hepworth, a rich patron of the shop that Hobson is servile towards in her presence and much to her disdain but dismissive of once she leaves the shop.  Mrs Hepworth demands to know which member of Hobson's staff was responsible for making the pair of boots she bought in the shop last time and after much too-ing and fro-ing, discovers that Willie made them.  She demands to see Willie, a frightened rabbit of a man, and informs him that the boots are the best made pair of boots in Manchester and she will be sending her daughters to the shop for their boots as well.  She also makes Willie promise that he will never leave to work for another shop without telling her where he is going.  A blustering Hobson insists that Willie won't ever leave, much to Mrs Hepworth's disparagement. 
After Mrs Hepworth leaves, Jim Heeler, Hobson's drinking partner arrives to look for him.  Hobson sends his daughters away and bemoans the trials of having daughters to find husbands for that don't respect or listen to his words of wisdom.  Jim points out that Hobson will have to dig deep into his pockets to fund three weddings and informs Hobson of something called 'settlements'.  In horror Hobson calls off his search for husbands, proclaiming that 'the minute you mentioned settlements Jim it was dead off!'.  The two men head to the Moonrakers Parlour for their mid morning refreshment.
A thoughtful Maggie asks Willie to come up from the workroom and proceeds to tell a more and more confused Willie about her plan for their future.  To his gradually developing horror she reveals that she intends to marry Willie and the two of them will set up shop for themselves, building their own life.  A shell-shocked Willie, in a last ditch attempt to save his own skin begs Maggie that 'when it comes to marrying lass, I bound to tell you, I'm none in love with you', to which Maggie curtly informs him to 'wait til you're asked'.
To make matters more complicated, it turns out that Willie is tokened, to Ada Figgins.He is the lodger at her mother's house and it was her mother that made the match.  In an attempt to swing things in her favour, Maggie reminds Will that 'I've got no mother', to which he points out 'you need none neither'.

Undaunted, Maggie presents the idea to Ada (who has arrived to give Will his dinner), in the form of a business proposal, leaving Ada scrambling for words, and eventually pushed out of the door (returning swiftly to take Will's dinner away and promising that 'you'll come 'ome t'night to a thick ear!'
A distraught Will proclaims that he will be 'jawed til I'm black in the face' tonight when he goes home.  Maggie tells Will that he won't be going back to Mrs Figgins but from now on will live with Tubby.  A clearly delighted Will tells her that 'it's like 'appy dream!' but upon being presented with the prospect of kissing Maggie for the first time, darts back down into the workshop as Alice and Vickey come back into the shop.  Maggie coolly informs both of her sisters of her plans and after the shock has worn off and the reality of the situation kicks in, a mortified Alice, who thinks that this will permanently damage her chances with Albert, screams at Maggie that 'what you do touches us'.  The girls are still in an uproar when Hobson returns for his lunch and both Alice and Vickey tell him with barely concealed vicious delight 'the news about our Maggie'. 
A furious Hobson tells all three girls that there will be no marriages in his family, and sends Alice and Vickey away with both girls throwing a temper tantrum.  Maggie and Hobson then confront each other, with Maggie informing Hobson that from now on, Hobson will pay both her and Willie decent wages and he will support their marriage or they will both leave the shop and set up for themselves.
Hobson drags Will out of the workshop and threatens to beat him with a belt every day until he forgets about marrying Maggie.  The confrontation at first makes Will cower but then, suddenly, after avoiding a violent blow from the belt buckle, he proclaims that 'I'm non wanting thy Maggie, it's her that's after me, but I'll tell you this, Mr Hobson if you touch me with that belt, I'll take her quick, aye and stick to her like glue...and I'll do more, I'll walk straight out of shop with (Maggie) and us two 'ull set up for ourselves'.
This breaks Hobson and he watches in disbelief and Will and Maggie share their first quick kiss, one that is fuelled by temper and rebellion rather than love, but it is a step towards their unity.
A month later Maggie has left the shop with Will, Vickey and Alice are in charge of the shop floor and Tubby is lamenting the fact that the shop has now lost all of the high class trade and no one wants any boots made.  Alice is having trouble with the accounts, having been put there in Maggie's place, and all she can think of to do is get Tubby to make clogs, despite the fact they are not selling any.  The shop is looking in a bad way without Maggie and Will.
Suddenly Vickey's secret beau, Mr Freddie Beenstock, arrives with Will and Maggie.  Maggie goes on to inform Vickey and Alice that, despite what their father has said about providing them with settlements, they will both be getting married. 
Vickey informs Maggie that due to her engagement to Will, she has ruined both her and Alice's chances of ever marrying well.  They both sneer at Will and turn their noses up at where Will and Maggie are living, in two cellars in Oldfield Road.  Soon the purpose for Freddie being in the shop becomes apparent.   Hobson was overcome by drink at midday, wasn't looking where he was going and fell through the pavement cellar trap at Freddie's corn warehouse and is now sleeping on bags of grain in the cellar, 'snoring very loudly, but he isn't hurt'.  Maggie sends Freddie to go and fetch Albert Prosser, despite Vickey's protestations that Maggie is 'ordering folk about a bit'.  'I'm used to it' admits Maggie.
Maggie sends Will upstairs to clear out the old lumber room of broken down furniture which can be repaired for their cellar, and despite Alice and Vickey's earlier sneering at living with second hand furniture, they show clear consternation at losing the 'broken down, crippled things that aren't yours' to their older sister.  The two girls are horrified when they learn that Maggie and Will are getting married that afternoon, with Maggie taking one of the brass rings from the shop as her wedding ring, and that both Alice and Vickey are expected to be there.  They both protest and are made to kiss the bridegroom much to their disgust.  When they say that they can't leave the shop, Maggie points out that they have no trade at the moment and that Tubby will be perfectly capable of looking after the shop on his own.  Out of arguments and excuses, the girls leave to get changed.
Albert Prosser arrives and Maggie asks him to draw up a legal action for trespassing and stealing trade secrets.  Albert does so but warns that it will likely not hold up in court.  Maggie gives the document to Freddie and tells him to put it on her father's chest so that he sees it when he wakes.  She then sends a mortified Albert to push the cart of furniture through the streets to the cellars at Oldfield Road and then to meet them at the Church.  When Albert protests that 'what if my friends see me' Maggie threatens that 'if you're too proud to do a job like that, then you're not the husband for my sister'.  The two younger sisters come back into the shop and they all leave to go to the Church, leaving Tubby in charge.
After the wedding the party all go to Maggie and Will's rooms for the wedding breakfast of pork pies, tea and wedding cake.  Conversation is stilted and the girls leave to go to the bedroom to collect their hats and leave.  On his own with Albert and Freddie, after all three are forced to do the washing up by Maggie, Willie confesses that he would rather the men didn't leave him, that he has never been on his own with Maggie before and that Maggie isn't 'the type of woman you get familiar with'.  An amused Freddie points out to Willie that 'you've had quite long enough to thaw the ice and it's not our job to do your melting for you'.  Just as they are about to leave there is a knock on the door and Hobson's voice rings out.  A terrified Alice and Vicky, along with Albert and Freddie, are all bundled into Maggie's bedroom to hide until called for.
A clearly nervous Willie welcomes Hobson to his house, attempting, under Maggie's scrutiny, to act as a master of a property should. 
Maggie makes her father, against his will, consume some of her wedding cake as a symbol that he approves of the match.  Hobson acknowledges that 'I'm none too proud of the match you've made but...the milk's spilt and I'll not cry'.  Eventually it becomes clear why Hobson has come.  He has awoken to a legal suit against him for damages for trespass and is aware that once it reaches the papers, his business and his reputation will be ruined.
Maggie suggests that a way to keep it out of the papers would be to settle the matter out of court. 
"In private?" cries Hobson. "Yes, I daresay, and all the worse for that. It's done amongst themselves in lawyers' offices behind closed doors so no one can see they're squeezing twice as hard in private as they'd dare to do in public. There's some restraint demanded by a public place, but privately! It'll cost a fortune to settle this in private, Maggie".  He eventually agrees to settle out of court, as long as it is not in a lawyers office, at which point Maggie gets Albert to appear from the bedroom and sits him down to settle the matter then and there.  
Maggie then calls the remaining three out of the bedroom, and the two girls stand sheepishly in front of their father to explain why they left the shop and Maggie introduces Freddie to Hobson as the final party involved in the legal dispute. 
After some negotiation, aided by Maggie on both sides, a settlement figure of £500 is agreed upon.  When Hobson bemoans that it 'is a tidy sum of money to be going out of the family', Maggie notes that it is not going out of the family, and that Alice and Vickey will now have £250 apiece as their bridal settlements.  A furious Hobson screams that 'I've been diddled, it's a set up' and tells all three daughters that they are no longer welcome and his fatherly duties are now at an end.  The girls are upset at first but soon are too overcome by the idea that they are finally getting married.
Much to Willie's disappointment, Alice, Vickey, Freddie and Albert all take their leave.  Maggie starts to tidy up and leaves Willie to finish his lesson for the day as she is schooling him in reading and writing.  She goes into the bedroom.
A very nervous Willie finishes his lesson, and, obviously unwilling to join Maggie in the bedroom, starts to undress in the living room.  Maggie comes back out, clothed in her nightgown, and silently takes him by the hand and leads him into the bedroom.

One year later and Tubby is cooking breakfast.  Jim Heeler arrives having heard that Hobson is very sick and Tubby goes out to fetch a doctor.
When the doctor arrives he pronounces that Hobson is suffering from a severe case of chronic alcoholism, having drunk himself to within six months of the grave.  Hobson stubbornly declares that he will not give up drink and that life has to be worth living before he will live it.
The doctor declares that Hobson requires women to manage him and asks if he has no female relatives who can look after him.  Hobson acknowledges that he has three daughters who are all married, and queerly so.  The doctor declares that he will prescribe total abstinence and Maggie's supervision and just as he asks where she can be found, she enters the shop having been fetched by Tubby Wadlow.  The doctor asks if she will come and live with Hobson again and she replies that she will think about it and will require her husbands permission.  The doctor leaves.
Hobson tells Maggie that he didn't want her before but he wants her now and she will come and live with him.  Maggie refuses to agree, saying that there are three daughters, and that she will need to ask her husband.  Just as the two get into a heated row, Alice, now lavishly dressed and a lady of leisure enters.  She points out the difference in status between herself and Maggie and goes to check her father's temperature.
Upon hearing that one of the daughters will have to return to live with him though, she very quickly changes her tune and starts explaining all the reasons why it can't be her.  Just as another argument is about to start, Vickey sweeps in, also lavishly dressed.  She also goes to fawn over her father, right up until the moment she finds out that one daughter is expected to return and then announces that it can't be her as she is pregnant.

The girls send their father away to go and get dressed and argue amongst themselves, with Vickey and Alice stating that it is Maggie's duty as the eldest and also should be a pleasure to get away from her cellars.  Maggie goes into the shop to speak to Will who has just arrived.

Left on their own, Vickey points out to Alice that they need to be careful, as if Maggie does come to live with Hobson, it may result in her getting a larger share of Hobson's will.  Alice rushes to the door to go and fetch her husband, Albert, to draw the will up at once.
At the door they are both confronted by a drastically changed Will.  Will is confident, authoritative and announces that whilst Maggie is looking after Hobson, he will look after the shop.  He informs both girls that the shop has little to no value now and that whilst they argue, Hobson comes back in.  Vickey and Alice immediately take up position on either side of Hobson but when asked directly if they are willing to come and live with him, after much squirming and wriggling, both admit that they are not.  Hurt by his daughters rejection, Hobson sends them both away so that 'you that aren't willing can leave me to talk with them that are'.  Alice and Vickey, after spluttering their indignation, both flounce out, leaving Maggie and Will with Hobson.

Hobson, gleeful at the idea that Maggie will be coming back, announces that he will give them one of the rooms to live in and will take Willie back on his old wage.  Will attempts to leave with Maggie, with a bemused Hobson asking why.  Willie explains that he is now the master of a business that is starving Hobson's to death.  In the last year they have made back all the money that was lent to them to start up by Mrs Hepworth and made more on top of that.  He won't be coming back as an employee but will instead close down his business and set up at Hobson's instead, taking Hobson onto in partnership as a sleeping partner.  He argues with Maggie over the name of the new business, eventually settling on 'Mossop and Hobson'.
A stunned Hobson, left with no other options, agrees and Willie starts excitedly going over all the improvements he will make to the shop and the business.
Hobson leaves to go and get his hat in preparation for the walk over to Albert Prosser's office who will draw up the deed of partnership.  Once he has gone, the confident veneer of Willie drops and he and Maggie celebrate.  Willie confesses to Maggie that 'when it came t'facing you about the name, I tell you I fair trembled in my shoes'.  A proud Maggie tells him not to ruin the moment, and they share a tender and loving embrace, just as a broken Hobson comes back into the shop and they leave to go to the lawyer's office.

As the door closes behind Maggie and Hobson, a changed Will, now the Master of Hobson's stands in the center of the shop and with a wry smile, murmurs 'well, by gum'.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Hobson's Choice - Get In

Transporting a set to a theatre isn't exactly an easy job.  It takes lots of hands, lots of patience and lots of head scratching to try and work out how all of this...
Is going to fit into the back of one of these.
without breaking anything.  Cue Tetris music and an hour of stacking, sliding, shifting, shoving and shouting. 
When the weather is dry and not too cold it's not actually that bad a job.  This day however was absolutely freezing (and the Warehouse doesn't exactly have central heating and double glazing) and the February rains meant that the ground around the Warehouse was utterly saturated.  It would have been ideal for a mudbath; not so great for trying to get large painted items of set into the van.  One slip and the set would have been repainted with a lovely mural of a dirt landscape.

It's not just the large pieces you need to remember.  All sets need small, seemingly insignificant pieces of wood and fabric (blocks, sticks to stir paint, sticks to fill in gaps etc), multiple buckets of paint, trays of screws and nails, drills and their chargers and every workman's tool you can think of.  You don't really want to forget one as it's a 40 minute drive back to the Warehouse to get it later in the week!
Now I'm not normally one for gender defined roles but in this situation, I'm not really much use.  I can get the smaller and lighter pieces out to the van but the big ones I'm just going end up breaking (them and most likely me) as I drop them.  So what on earth was the point of me being there, other than to get in the way and annoy everyone by taking photo's?

Well, Sally and I had some rummaging to do in the Warehouse.  I was looking for some costume pieces for another production, and Sally was looking for last minute items of furniture.  The Warehouse is an Aladdin's Cave of treasures and it takes a lot of foraging and digging down the narrow pathways, carefully squeezing your way between precarious towers of furniture to find what you are looking for.  You do have to be very delicate, I once moved the wrong tray and caused a sofa avalanche. 

Oh - does the turret by Sally's feet look familiar?  It's from the set of Wyrd Sisters!
However, eventually, and seemingly against most of the laws of physics, everything is in the van and we can head to the theatre.

Where we promptly need to empty the carefully packed van and get everything into the Theatre through the loading door.

The loading door that is 10 foot off street level on a road with no pavement.
Yeah.  You just have to lean out and grab the stuff that is handed to you without falling. 
Once everything is in then the real work starts as the set starts to be pieced together like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no picture to follow.
There was originally a picture, but Derek thinks he left it behind at the Warehouse. 
That strangely shaped structure studded with wheels is actually the basis of our rotating stage.  The first day in the Theatre was mostly about getting it together, in the right order, installing the pivot on the floor and then getting the stage to rest on the top of the pivot point which was no bigger than a can of Pringles.  Ever watch the Crystal Maze?  It was a bit like a version of one of those games as the stage was rolled around with someone with a torch peering through the tiny hole in the top, looking for the pivot in the stage and shouting directions to get it to align.
Eventually though align it did and the bare bones of the set could start to go up whilst we had a lot of hands on deck to help out. 
Over the next 3 days, the set slowly pieced together.  As builds go, this one was particularly painful and complicated as it involved a revolving set showing three different scenes, a staircase that didn't fit properly necessitating emergency creative thinking, and a working trap that had to be altered drastically.  The counter was too high for myself and Sinead to sit behind (we really aren't that tall!) and had to be lowered and it all got a bit chaotic and stressful and arduous.  I'm not afraid to say that at midday on the Wednesday, 18 hours before we were due to go on stage for the first night, I didn't think we were going to get there.
However, somehow, miraculously, it all came together.  The set revolved, the furniture fitted through the doors and everything that needed a lick of paint had been well and truly licked.  I'm having words with some of the cast members about that as I think they will now need a tox screen.

We were ready to go and we knew we had to be on fire as the house numbers were looking, well, full.