It’s Barrie’s choice to give directing a miss for once: Playing a larger-than-life character is a pleasurable experience for its star, who is delighted to be acting. Ian Soutar reports...

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

“It’s a great feeling not having all the responsibilities which go with that,” he says. “I’ve got corridor time to do things for myself. And I don’t have to get up too early. The pleasure’s immense.”

He is Henry Horatio Hobson, a irrascible widower living above his boot shop in Victorian Salford with his three increasingly independent daughters. When his eldest girl, Maggie, decides to set up a business to rival his own, stealing his best bootmaker in the process, Hobson’s life is set to change forever.

“It’s a fantastic part in a fantastic play in a great venue and I was available to do it,” says Rutter of his decision to accept director Christopher Luscombe’s offer.

Available, he says, because associate director Conrad Nelson, has directed Northern Broadsides’ summer tour of Hamlet. “I have done other things away from Northern Broadsides before, directing in Cyprus and Estonia, for example,” he points out.

Hull-born Rutter was an actor with the RSC and the National before in 1992 founding his company in Yorkshire to perform Shakespeare and classical texts in a popular and regional style, often in unconventional locations.

And so, Hobson’s Choice marks the first time in 21 years he has performed a play in a single venue rather than toured around.

As to the play itself, Rutter knows from doing one of Harold Brighouse’s earlier works, The Game, that he is underestimated as a playwright. “The great thing about Hobson’s Choice is the way it is put together,” he says. “It’s beautifully constructed and the writing is very poetic – there’s a lot of things like alliteration. It’s a consummate piece of writing and very skilfull.

“People say, Hobson’s Choice, not that old chestnut but many of them haven’t seen the play, their only experience is the black and white film.”

As to the part, is Hobson one of those larger-than-life characters where the actor needs to avoid going over the top? Rutter scoffs at this notion.

“In order to get there you have to fly so you start off really going for it and once you have got there you can then come back,” he says. “It’s a big generous part and you have to be generous with it.”

And, he points out, in the last act he’s strapped in an armchair like a deflated Falstaff or the latter stages of King Lear. “In order to deliver that you have to be filled up first,” he says.

It turns out the “corridor time” that has been freed up for him does not mean he has been able to get away from Halifax and Northern Broadsides entirely.

“We start work on We Are Three Sisters in August so I am double jobbing,” he says referring to the next production he is directing, a new play by Blake Morrison about the Brontes, We Are Three Sisters.

“After that I will be directing our 20th anniversary production, Love’s Labours Lost, so it is an important time,” he adds. “We love pressure, there has to be that. It’s a necessity to do your job whether you like it or not and I like that, it’s how we exist. I am a theatre animal.”

After a public dress rehearsal tonight Hobson’s Choice runs at the Crucible Theatre until June 25.