Steptoe And Son In Murder At Oil Drum Lane, Theatre Royal, York
Friday 28 October 2005
Having escaped the clutches of the law, and a life sentence in Broadmoor, Harold has now returned from his Brazilian hideout, and drops in to their old place in Oil Drum Lane. A trim, prim National Trust curator keeps the grime in pristine condition in the totters' former home, complete with tin bath (and pickled onions) - affectionately recreated by Nigel Hook, the designer. Harold, now 71 - older than his dad was when he bit the dust - turns up at the property, charms the guide and ends up locked in overnight.
Before you can say, "You dirty old man!", Albert glides in, a corporeal ghost, suspended in purgatory until Harold releases him by showing remorse. The two main characters, Harold and Albert, are played by Jake Nightingale and Harry Dickman respectively, recreating some vintage laughs from new material. Nightingale is particularly good at capturing the frustration, mannerisms and even the slight speech impediment of Harry H Corbett.
Dickman's leer may not be as evil or as malicious as Wilfrid Brambell's, or the twinkle quite as wicked, but the pathetic expression, the wily ways and the emotional blackmail are clearly recognisable. While not quite a Dead Ringers impression, Roger Smith's lively production comes pretty close and none the worse for that, though the resident skeleton has lost a bit of weight with the passing of time.
Journeying down memory lane in several short, self-contained episodes, we see Harold growing up, his hopes dashed by his father at every turn. Harold and his desperate attempt to bag a curvy "bird", Harold's desire to be cultivated, Harold's need to be blokish, Harold's pride in serving his country, Harold's belief that his luck is finally about to change... only to be thwarted time and again by Albert. In one scene, short of a bob, Albert sells his teenage son to a Nazi, a wheeze that goes horribly wrong with the emergence of some unfortunate Jewish relatives by the name of Stepstein.
A stunning coup de théâtre (which it would be a shame to reveal) suggests that this really is the demise of Steptoe and son, unless there's some call for a couple of rag-and-bone johnnies beyond the pearly gates.
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