STEPTOE AND SON
by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson adapted by Emma Rice.
Kneehigh Theatre (co-produced with West Yorkshire Playhouse) Tour to 6 April 2013.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 November at Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Northampton.
Giving old TV favourites a third dimension.
Love/hate couples have always peopled literature, but rarely as father and son like this: less Oedipal than a marriage, each half complementing – if rarely complimenting – the other. This is the final revelation of the ever-perceptive Emma Rice’s adaptation, based on four of the TV scripts Ray Galton and Alan Simpson wrote for their comic rag and bone men of the screen between 1962 and 1974.
If they still seem fresh, that’s probably because the characters’ cramped room – in Neil Murray’s detailed design aptly suggesting both home and cart awaiting a suitably hefty horse – is untouched by fashion, as is their behaviour. Rice imports a sense of period through Kirsty Woodward’s long-silent Woman, and the records she plays on a sixties portable record-player. She comes to represent the, if not eternal, perennial feminine, something neither Steptoe attains.
Through the episodes, Harold, around 40, seeks to leave his father for another job, a girlfriend, or holiday alone, before this Woman, who’s hovered around as memory of Albert’s happier married days (forties music replacing Cliff and Elvis) or fantasy aspiration, comes realistically into their lives. Wartime horrors echo in the memory too.
She’s loved them both, is the right age for one man, the right size for the other, but recognises – as do we, if not they – that staying would make her the gooseberry in the household.
Rice significantly suggests Albert’s expressions of affection to Harold aren’t simply manipulative (though they’re often that too) and why Harold never actually leaves. Her production’s also visually vibrant, elaborated scene changes linking, for example, thoughts of the holiday that wasn’t with the home where the pair will remain.
Though Mike Shepherd’s Albert can suggest a Cornish Wilfred Brambell, Dean Nolan’s hirsute, energetic Harold, the son gone to seed and run to fat, doesn’t recall Harry H Corbett’s original Harold – his several “you dirty old man”s to his father have none of Corbett’s flavourful curl of disgust.
Those wanting a return to the Oil Drum Lane they knew and loved might find the whole thing totters, Kneehighed in the groin. But, part-curiosity, part-perception, this is always intriguing.
Albert: Mike Shepherd.
Harold: Dean Nolan.
Woman: Kirsty Woodward.
Director: Emma Rice.
Designer/Costume: Neil Murray.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound/Music: Simon Baker.
Music (‘You don’t Own Me’, arranger ‘It’s Over’) Jim Henson.
Projection: Mic Pool.
Choreographer: Etta Murfitt.
Assistant directors: Simon Harvey/Samuel Wood.
20-24 Nov 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm The Lowry (Quays Theatre) 0843 208 6000 www.thelowry.com
23 Jan-9 Feb Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 24 Jan 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Bristol Old Vic 0117 987 7877 www.bristololdvic.org.uk
12-16 Feb 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 3.25pm Curve Leicester 0116 242 3595 www.curveonline.co.uk
5-9 March 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Poole Lighthouse 0844 406 8666 www.lighthousepoole.co.uk
12-16 March 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Northern Stage Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0191 230 5151 www.northernstage.co.uk
19 March-6 April Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 20 March 7pm, no performance 29, 31 March, 1 April. Mat 20, 27 March.1.30pm Lyric Theatre Hammersmith 020 8741 6850 www.lyric.co.uk