Hobson's Choice (play)

Hobson's Choice is a play by Harold Brighouse, the title taken from the popular expression, Hobson's choice—meaning no choice at all (from Thomas Hobson 1545–1631 who ran a thriving livery stable in Cambridge).

Hobson's Choice
Written byHarold Brighouse
Date premieredNovember 2, 1915 (1915-11-02)
Place premieredPrincess Theatre

The first production was at the Princess Theatre in New York on November 2, 1915.[1] It then transferred to London on 24 June 1916 at the Apollo Theatre, before moving to the Prince of Wales Theatre on 20 November 1916 (starring Norman McKinnel, as Henry Hobson, Edyth Goodall as Maggie Hobson and Joe Nightingale as Willie Mossop[2]). It was performed by the National Theatre at the Old Vic, London in 1964 (starring Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay.)[2] The play was adapted for film several times and as a Broadway musical. The Crucible Theatre Sheffield staged a revival in June 2011 directed by Christopher Luscombe and starring Barrie Rutter, Zoe Waites and Philip McGinley.

The story is set in Salford in 1880. It bears many resemblances to the stories of Cinderella and King Lear including a deceased mother; three daughters, two of whom are pretty and frivolous, the third of whom is clever and hardworking; and a fairy godmother (Mrs. Hepworth).[3]


  • Henry Horatio Hobson
  • Maggie Hobson (Hobson's oldest daughter)
  • Alice Hobson (Hobson's daughter)
  • Vickey Hobson (Hobson's daughter)
  • Mrs. Hepworth (a wealthy customer of Hobson's)
  • William Mossop (Maggie Hobson's conquest, with whom she eventually develops love)
  • Albert Prosser (a lawyer; in love with Alice )
  • Fred Beenstock (in love with Vickey )


A shoemaker, Henry Hobson, has three daughters: Maggie, Alice and Vickey. The daughters work in the shop unpaid. Hobson spends his time drinking with the fellow members of the masons at the Moonrakers pub.

One day, Mrs Hepworth, a rich customer of Hobson, demands to know who made her boots: it is Hobson's underpaid bootmaker, Will Mossop. She insists that all her and her daughters' boots must from now on be made by Will, and tells him to inform her if ever he should leave Hobson's. Maggie, who is a talented businesswoman and considered too old and plain to marry, proposes marriage to Will. Will reluctantly agrees. When Hobson comes back, she tells him that she intends to marry Will, but he laughs at her, and threatens to beat Will for courting her. At this, Will leaves the shop, and Maggie goes with him. They borrow £100 from Mrs Hepworth, set up a shop on their own, and marry as soon as the banns of marriage have been called.

A month later, Hobson falls into the warehouse belonging to the father of Fred Beenstock, Vickey's love. Maggie comes back to tell her sisters that she is going to marry them off herself. Hobson has refused to settle any money on them, without which they are unlikely to find decent husbands. With the help of lawyer Albert Prosser, Alice's love, they issue a writ claiming damages from Hobson for trespass, damage to corn sacks and spying on trade secrets. Hobson eventually agrees to pay, the money is settled on the girls and they can now get married.

Thanks to Will's skill as a bootmaker and Maggie's business acumen, their shop is very successful and, within a year, they have taken nearly all of Hobson's trade. Hobson is almost bankrupt and drinking himself to death. After an attack of delirium tremens, he asks each of his daughters to look after him. They all refuse, but eventually Maggie agrees to do so provided that Will takes over his business, with Hobson remaining as a sleeping partner only.


Film and television

The play has been filmed several times, originally as a silent film in 1920, with Joan Ritz as Maggie and Arthur Pitt as her father. It was filmed again with sound in 1931, with James Harcourt as Hobson, Frank Pettingell as Mossop, Joan Maude as Alice, and Viola Lyel as Maggie. The best-known film version is that of 1954 directed by David Lean. It starred Charles Laughton as Hobson and Brenda De Banzie as Maggie. John Mills played Will Mossop, and Prunella Scales made her second film appearance as Vicky Hobson.

It was Americanized in the 1983 TV version, set in 1914 New Orleans, starring Jack Warden as Hobson, Sharon Gless as Maggie, and Richard Thomas as Will. It was broadcast on CBS TV on 21 December 1983. The New York Times review summarized the story line thus: "Burt Prelutsky's script transposes the setting to New Orleans, and the year, for whatever arbitrary reason, is 1914. Henry Horatio Hobson, owner of a successful shoe store, is still a carousing drunk, complaining about how fate has saddled him with three daughters. Maggie, his eldest, can barely conceal her contempt for daddy's more outrageous ways, and she is determined to get out from under his domination. As her vehicle toward that end, she chooses Will, a gentle and illiterate master shoemaker working in Hobson's basement." The review goes on:"Much of the problem would seem to be rooted in the casting. Jack Warden is an accomplished actor but he is at his best in the big-city settings of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. He is not terribly persuasive as a New Orleans gentleman, albeit a drunken one. Sharon Gless is more successful with Maggie, giving the character an admirably unyielding integrity. But her performance doesn't quite jibe with that of Richard Thomas as Will."[4]


The 1966 Broadway musical Walking Happy is based on the play.[5]


An English ballet adaptation of the same title, with choreography by David Bintley and music by Paul Reade, premiered on 13 February 1989 by Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, London.[6][7] A video production of the ballet has been seen on television broadcasts[8] and released on DVD.[9]

West End

In June 2016, Hobson's Choice opened at The Vaudeville Theatre, running until 10 September 2016.[10]Martin Shaw played Hobson.[11]


  1. ^ Pollack, Rhoda-Gale. "HOBSON'S CHOICE". Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  2. ^ a b Brighouse, Harold (1964). Wood, E.R. (ed.). Hobson's Choice. London: Heinemann. pp. xvi. ISBN 0-435-22120 5.
  3. ^ Peck, Russell, A. "Cinderella Bibliography". University of Rochester Libraries, accessed 19 January 2011
  4. ^ O'Connor, John J. "TV: 'Hobson's Choice,' An Adaptation On CBS" The New York Times, 21 December 1983, p. C27
  5. ^ Kerr, Walter. Review, "New York Times", 28 November 1966, p. 47
  6. ^ "PR: Birmingham Royal Ballet's 2011 Tour To Hong Kong" Archived 5 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine ballet.co.uk, 6 January 2011
  7. ^ Abad-Carles, Ana "Birmingham Royal Ballet, 'Hobson's Choice' " Ballet-Dance Magazine, December 2005
  8. ^ "TV Reviews : Bintley's Ballet of 'Hobson's Choice' a Study in Recycled Classicism". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  9. ^ "'Hobson's Choice', Studio: Arthaus DVD, Release Date: 2 May 2006" amazon.co.uk, accessed 30 January 2011
  10. ^ "Hobson's Choice at The Vaudeville Theatre".
  11. ^ "Passions Primitive: Hobson's choice - Vaudeville Theatre". passionsprimitive.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 15 July 2016.

External linksEdit