Steptoe & Son, Kneehigh Theatre/ West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
The last episode of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s Steptoe & Son was broadcast on Boxing Day 1974. From the early 60s its seven series revolutionised British comedy - giving it a darker, more actorly and socially observant twist as well as plenty of old fashioned laughs.
It also provided a platform for Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Bramble to fashion two of the finest comic performances ever witnessed on the small screen. Yet though regularly repeated since, the rag and bone men locked together in their spirit-crushing embrace of grot and frustration have never achieved the tea time family appeal of a Dad’s Army or the Good Life – two sitcoms for which they paved the way.
Still the weight of expectation surrounding this adaptation by Kneehigh Theatre has been considerable. Unfortunately the first impression fails to live up to the high hopes. The Steptoes of Oil Drum Lane, Shepherds Bush are London creatures through and through and Mike Shepherd (Albert) and Dean Nolan’s (Harold) West Country accents jar.
The use of extended music-scenes to place the action in the swinging 60s becomes overbearing, slowing the pace so that at times it appears that the dramatic momentum might cease all together. The structure of the show is straightforward: four cut down scripts taken quite faithfully from the TV heyday.
The first – The Offer, formed the initial pilot, the success of which led to further commissions for the two writers then riding high on their winning association with Tony Hancock. Director Emma Rice selects two more episodes from the 1962 first series – The Bird and The Holiday, before rounding off the evening with the an episode from 1970, entitled Two’s Company.
Rice’s main contribution is the addition of a female character – the Woman, played by Kirsty Woodward, who at times is merely an observer whilst at others takes on one of the significant roles. Although not unpleasantly distracting, there are occasions when the two chief protagonists should have been allowed to slug it out alone on stage.
The production emphasises the darker, almost depressing elements of the original, the misogyny and the despair of socially ambitious Harold as the sexual and material opportunities of the age pass him by. Yet despite the spirited performances, particularly by Dean Nolan, the relationship between the two men never really bubbles with the murderous comic rage of the original.
Unfortunately there are just not enough good laughs to be had.
Until 13 October and then touring
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
May the Fourth Be With You: The internet celebrates Star Wars Day with new Twitter symbols and memes
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils