19 MARCH 1965, Page 20

THEATRE Cobblers

Hobson's Choice. (National Theatre.)—Happy End. (Royal Court.) 11 was cobblers for my first week (The Shoe- 'makers' Holiday) and it is cobblers again for my second (Hobion's Choice). Is this a sort of warning that I ought to stick to my last? Anyway; it's unlikely that cobblers will turn up any more unless—as seems possible in this job—I shall need terms of defiance and abuse.

Hobson's Choice is set in 1880, and there are people who believe it was written about then and regard Brighouse as a pioneer like T. W. Robinson. Actually, Brighouse wasn't born till 1882 and London didn't see his play till 1916, which means that contemporary critics could talk with a certain plausibility about the influence of Man and Superman on this study of the elan vital in a Salford cobbler's daughter. It would have been easier,.however, to go.to Salford and see what women were like there. The Coronation Street virago was spun out of the cotton mills, which gave women independence, and not out of the Shavian life force. Moreover, doesn't the Shaw woman conquer through the tricks of femininity? Maggie Hobson is the Xantippe who taught Socrates dialectic.

Billie Whitelaw fits herself so tightly into the iron maiden of the part that there can't be any release into softness. And a certain softness is called for at the end of Act 2, when Willie Mossop has copied his slate-maxim well. You could call it a masterpiece of humour-playing rather than a character study; though, within her elected limits, I don't see how the part could be better done. Colin Blakely, on the other hand, tries to make out of old Hobson a creature of greater subtlety, especially vocal subtlety, than real as well as stage- Salford can allow. Having three daughters, he sees himself as a Lear in his moment of fancied betrayal; otherwise, he is a founder-member of the Corresponding Societies who has soared far above shoemaking. Something even approaching gentility peeps through. That' first-act speech about uppishness should be a rough triumph of crapulous rhetoric; Colin Blakely makes it altogether too reasonable.

Frank Finlay is a fine gormless Willie Mossop, but too much of the sweet south breathes on Terence K napp • (Albert Prosser) and George Innes (Fred Beenstock), as though Salford were tin enclave of the Home Counties. Jeanne Hepple

and Sheila Reid don't try to push the parts of the younger Hobson girls, and they are right: they're only there to be bossed. The production (John Dexter and Piers Haggard) essays no new tricks, except for the clever one of keeping the shoeboxes on the shop shelves totally undis- turbed for a whole stage month. Yet it served Miss Whitelaw well—her concerto. Only light let her hard image down, disclosing, with shadow, that soft beauty Maggie Hobson doesn't possess. Here was the dame aux camelias playing in a Brighouse comedy.

A good question about Happy End is—why go to the very considerable trouble of doing it? Well, there's Brecht and there's Weill, though there's mostly Dorothy Lane, authoress of the 'book.' Is Dorothy Lane (whose back-hair is ex- hibited in the Royal Court's programme) perhaps a' transvestite version of Brecht? If not, there's no Brecht in the play, since Brecht merely wrote the lyrics, and the lyrics, being translated, have been turned into something else. The Whole con- cept of Chicago gangsters and a Salvation Army lassie is both terribly old-fashioned and ignor- antly audacious, since, after Major Barbara and, for that matter, The Belle of New York, the Salvation Army has become a dangerous subject for comic treatment, requiring more than the cheap tricks of the stock response. How daring the little expressionistic devices must once have seemed—the silent film captions lowered on a sheet, for instance; how they smell now of stale flower-water. The real horror of this production is the waste of talent—Bettina Jonic's fine voice and winsome presence, David Bauer's power and humour (unfed by the weary corn), the delicious

Colin Blakely as Hobson performance of Ros Drinkwater, who gives to a barmaid's part an untiring vivacity that neither the .author nor the producer deserves.

I think the Brecht cult has gone on long enough. Even a touch of that name, like a rub of garlic, is supposed to be enough to give a flabby charade distinction. It's a confidence trick. A lot of us put up with Brecht for the sake of Weill, but this is far from being his best score. Let us not be bemused by Lotte Lenya and Huw Whel- don, who tell us that 'Surabaya Johnny' is a great song. It isn't, nor, in this play, is it even redeemed by contextual relevance. I left the Royal Court enraged. Who are they to drag me out, limping , with thromboangiitis obliterans, crammed with great expectations which. Michael Geliot must well know, are not going to be ful- filled? Every prospect displeases; the only man is Weill---and second-rate Weill, too. Cobblers.