Choice words all set for a Barrie sheen

Posteer image for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible
Posteer image for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible
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WHILE television audiences will know Barrie Rutter as a veteran of such legendary shows as Porridge and The Liver Birds as well as Fat Friends and Kavanagh QC, the stage is where he is most at home.

AS the uncompromising actor who put the Yorkshire dialect into Shakespeare you would think Barrie Rutter might be perturbed at having to play a man from Lancashire.

Barrie Rutter in rehearsals for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible

Barrie Rutter in rehearsals for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible

He puffs a little, raises a rather wild-looking eyebrow before concluding: “It’s a doddle, it’s no problem. I get more upset when Saints beat Hull RFC.”

Rutter has just begun a run as Henry Horatio Hobson in a revival of Harold Brighouse’s northern comedy about growing up and moving on.

“It’s that intrusive vowel that we don’t have in Yorkshire, so I’ve learned it,” Rutter says of the language.

“If I’m not quite correct it doesn’t matter. In 1860 Salford they didn’t talk like they do now. It would probably be more like present day Burnley or Wigan, further out. There would be green fields between Salford and Manchester.”

Zoe Waites  in rehearsals for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible

Zoe Waites in rehearsals for Hobson's Choice at the Crucible

Rutter believes there are similarities to be found in Brighouse’s tale with family life in the 21st century.

In Hobson’s Choice the veteran actor plays a widower and bolshy father of three daughters who has found his match in his own offspring.

“It comes from a position that every parent goes through when their kids revolt,” he says.

“The two youngest daughters in their own way are doing what kids do now. In the play they’re wearing a bustle on the back of their skirts. Now it’s ‘I want tattoos and an iPod’.

“There’s nowt different, only the props are different. The attitude is exactly the same.”

The story tells how Hobson, who lives above his boot shop, reacts when eldest daughter Maggie (played by Zoe Waites) decides to start a business to rival his own and steals his best bootmaker.

As a father with daughters, Rutter knows what it can be like to have wilful kids but can only draw on reality so far.

“In breaks you tell stories based on your experiences, but I’m not one of those who say ‘My character wouldn’t say that’ – that’s just arrogance. It’s not the actor’s job to feel anything, it’s their job to make an audience feel it.

“That’s our task. My opinion about what I think of the behaviour in this play is irrelevant other than in the rehearsal room.”

What he does agree with is the impact of Brighouse’s work on the evolving role of women in society more than a century ago.

“In The Game Brighouse introduces the new female voice, which was happening from 1910 even though it ends up with the older woman’s voice.

“In this play he moves on, it’s the younger woman’s voice he looks to; it was burgeoning in society but Brighouse champions it and comes out in favour of it against the old patriarchal regime.

“Its fame was during the first world war but he sets it 30 years previously at the start of the great social movements of which the burgeoning woman’s voice was part. It is the ladies’ voice in this play that is triumphant.”

And while lessons have been learned, equality issues addressed, some nations have some way to go.

“There’s still medieval, barbaric treatment of women in some countries. There’s still work to be done in society.

“Now, legally on paper, we are equal citizens. When women got the vote only married women over 30 got it. People forget that. There are still battles to be discussed.”

Hobson’s Choice runs until June 25.

broad speaking from one hull of a guy

WHILE television audiences will know Barrie Rutter as a veteran of such legendary shows as Porridge and The Liver Birds as well as Fat Friends and Kavanagh QC, the stage is where he is most at home.

And no more so than performing in his own accent, which is why he founded Northern Broadsides, the thriving company of which he remains artistic director.

“I started it and thought I’d had one good idea,” he recalls. “I had no idea there’d be a year two, never mind 20.

“Part of it was a theatrical, slow-burning revenge against those people who said I couldn’t play a king because I had an accent.

“Tony Harrison, the great poet from Leeds, taught me the dignity of my own voice, so I moved into another idea to do an all northern-sounding version of a classic play, one play, and I would play the king, and it took off.

“I didn’t set out to change the world, but in 1992 it was revolutionary.”

With him as director and actor Broadsides have performed several Bard classics while Rutter’s stage credits include Guys & Dolls, Animal Farm, The Crucible, The Jew Of Malta and A Winter’s Tale.

“I’ve always described myself as a stage animal. In the 40 years I’ve been earning a living as an actor my screen time has been minimal.

“I’ve had 10 years with The National, 10 years with the RSC, 20 years next year with my own company – it’s all been stage really,” he says.

“I’ve enjoyed the bits of screen and television and film but this is the best and safest drug in the world, not that I’ve tried many. There’s something about being a live performer. You can never button it down, audiences will always confound you.”

And as Hobson he gets to be larger than life. “Very large in rehearsal because then you can come back. I’ve encouraged myself and others to go for the moon and then come back to Yorkshire.

“This text is there to be enjoyed. There’s nowt better than to work your gob around great, wonderful language.

“The play has endured because it’s a master craftsman at the top of his job. You can say what you want about what happens in the play but as a piece of writing it’s poetic, beautifully rhythmic.”

It also sees Barrie being directed on stage for the first time in 21 years.

Chris Luscombe, who last year brought Spamalot to the Lyceum, has that task.

“I didn’t know Chris, I knew his work. He allows me a voice which is great, but I’ve got to button up at times – it’s not my ultimate responsibility.

“It’s a famous part in a famous play in a wonderful venue and it’s just down the road. What’s not to do? I’ve loved every second of it.”