A Proper Gentleman
This was the last performance of David Bintley’s 24-year long directorship of Birmingham Royal Ballet [BRB] and it was held not in Birmingham but in London’s Sadler’s Wells, the Company’s abode in a previous guise. At the end of the show Bintley appeared on stage to take a standing ovation; flowers were thrown, Peter Wright made a moving speech and Bintley himself said a few words before striding off the stage before the curtain finished coming down.
Leading up to that had been a performance of one of Bintley’s best-loved ballets, Hobson’s Choice, which he created in 1989 for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (the Company that would soon morph into BRB). It’s a light, comedic affair, very much in thrall to Frederick Ashton, pitched somewhere between Enigma Variations and La Fille mal gardée (it even features its own clog dance), but it’s a charming enough piece in its own right. True, the humour is a tad outdated – very much of the whoops-a-daisy, trousers-down variety – but there’s enough invention in the choreography and Hayden Griffin’s spot-on designs to survive that.
The story is wafer-thin; the three daughters of Henry Hobson – a drunken cobbler – are all trying to get themselves married off, and (spoiler alert) they succeed. Its telling is pure music hall – the spirit of an ‘oop north Tommy Steele is heel-clickingly alive in this one – but many of the pas de deux are balletically very beautiful. The characters are archetypes but well-drawn and excellently brought to life by a strong cast; Samara Downs’ tight-hipped Maggie was a stand-out and although Will Mossop is annoying in his perpetual bafflement with life, Lachlan Monaghan gave him a human heart that made you happy for him. A special mention must also go the six-strong Salvation Army band in the second act – a terrific mix of comedy, characterisation and technical expertise, led by the devotedly prim pairing of Momoko Hirata and Tyrone Singleton.
But the night belonged to Bintley and the sign that came down from the flies at the end of the show said it all really. It simply read ‘Thank you David’.