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Hobson's Choice

Now a well-known and popular actress, Anne took the lead role of Maggie Hobson in Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice at the Young Vic between January and March 1973. Surprisingly, this was her first time on a London stage. 

The Daily Telegraph, one of the leading English national papers, gave the following glorious review of Anne as Maggie.

 Actress’s Subtlety in Hobson’s Choice

By John Barber

No two ways about it, the best play on in London is usually to be found at the Young Vic.  Harold Brighouse’s classic comedy of the 1880s, “Hobson’s Choice”, is a case in point. 

But there are two ways of acting there.

One is exemplified by Anne Stallybrass, who plays the formidable Maggie, clever daughter of a Salford shopkeeper, a stingy tippler and domestic tyrant.

She ups and marries a rabbity little cobbler, and manages him so well that the pair of them end by taking over her father’s business.

Miss Stallybrass is superb. She makes herself look as serene, and as plain, as Salford Town Hall.  But it is a performance of great subtlety.

She embarks on one impudent coup after another with a twinkling humour that keeps you in suspense because you know that she knows that each coup may fail. You know too that beneath her starchy apron beats a heart of purest gold.


Anne Stallybrass and Andrew Robertson in “Hobson’s Choice” at the Young Vic

But Peter Bayliss, playing her father, succumbs to the temptation to pay down to the Young Vic’s teenage audience. Like a red-nosed comic, determined to make every line a laff, Mr Bayliss adopts an unnatural voice, and keeps clucking and gurgling, flapping his hands and splaying his hands like Struwwelpeter.

The actors wins his laughs but loses credibility. Lacking a leading character, the comedy’s contrivances stand exposed and the masterpiece becomes merely a well-made play.

However, Andrew Robertson’s little cobbler is also a performance of integrity and Bernard Goss’s production is full of rewarding detail. Alan Barlow has contributed some fascinating settings.
                                                                                                                            Daily Telegraph
                                                                                                                            30 January 1973

 

Milton Shulman, writing in London’s Evening Standard, also provided some interesting comments. 

The Test Of Time

Milton Shulman

The Women’s Lib movement should be delighted with Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse at the Young Vic. It shows that women have been firmly putting Englishmen in their place for a long time.

Neither North Country father, nor husband, is a match for Maggie Hobson. Defying the assumption that at thirty she is destined to languish as an old maid, she aggressively orders the shoehand in her father’s shop to marry her and then Pygmalion-like turns her illiterate partner into a prospective tycoon.

It was probably the novelty of seeing men browbeaten and cowed by a determined woman that made this play such a success when it was first produced in 1915.

After all, women may have been recognised as the power behind the throne in upper class circles but it was a rarer phenomenon in places like Salford, Lancashire.

The sight of strong men humiliated by a firm petticoat still retains its ability to delight. The scene in which the shoehand finds himself ordered into marriage is a classic of realistic comedy.

The plays tends to fray a bit at the seams in the final act which, in its determination to prevent the bullying father from dying of cirrhosis of the liver occasionally takes on the aspects of a tract for Alcoholics Anonymous.


Stallybrass:  starched

Anne Stallybrass, as the domineering Maggie, has that starched look of omniscience which no man can readily defy. Andrew Robertson, as Willie Mossop, grows convincingly from a startled rabbit of a man to a terrier with a fierce bite.

Peter Bayliss, I’m afraid, is not nearly as terrifying as he ought to be in the early scenes and tends to be too predictably comic in the closing stages when a slight touch of pathos is demanded. Nevertheless, he got the laughs which, I suppose, is what this youthful audience prefers.

Bernard Goss has directed with a firm feeling for the period and this stalwart comedy has managed successfully to withstand the wear and tear of time.

Evening Standard
31 January 1973

In addition, The Stage and Television Today commented that “Anne Stallybrass is a perfect Maggie” and The Sunday Times said “… as Maggie and Willie, Anne Stallybrass and Andrew Robertson are wonderfully moving”.

Having read the play, I can certainly visualise Anne in the role. Here’s part of the “proposal” scene from Act One: 

MaggieDo you know what keeps this business on its legs? Two things: one's good boots you make that sell themselves, the other's the bad boots other people make and I sell. We're a pair, Will Mossop.  
     
Willie You’re a wonder in the shop, Miss Maggie.  
     
Maggie And you’re a marvel in the workshop.  Well?  
     
Willie Well, what?  
 
Maggie It seems to me to point one way.  
     
Willie               What way is that?  
     

Maggie

You’re leaving me to do the work, my lad.  
     

Willie

I’ll be getting back to my stool, Miss Maggie.  
     
Maggie You'll go back when I've done with you. I've watched you for a long time and everything I've seen, I've liked. I think you'll do for me.  
     
Willie What way, Miss Maggie?  
     
Maggie Will Mossop, you’re my man. Six months I’ve counted on you, and it’s got to come out some time.  
     
Willie But I never …..  
     
Maggie I know you never, or it ‘ud not be left to me to do the job like this.  
     
Willie I’ll - I’ll sit down.  I’m feeling queer-like. What dost want me for?  
     
Maggie To invest in. You’re a business idea in the shape of a man.  
     
Willie I’ve got no head for business at all.  
     
Maggie But I have.  My brain and your hands ‘ull make a working partnership.  
     
Willie Partnership! Oh, that’s a different thing.  I thought you were axing me to wed you.  
     
Maggie I am.  

  Harold Brighouse

To our knowledge, Anne has only appeared in London on two other occasions:  in Glasstown (also 1973), and Bodies (1978) which in fact was at Hampstead, not the West End. She received good reviews every time so why was Anne not seen more often on a London stage?

DR, October 2004

Theatre 70s

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