Say “You dirty old man” in a London accent. Go on, we’ll wait. Do it so the whole office looks at you. Now say it in a Cornish accent. It’s not quite as accusatory is it?
Aside from some South-Westerly breezes, Steptoe and Son is faithfully recreated for the stage, based on the acclaimed sitcom by Galton and Simpson. Four episodes are presented as individual vignettes, but all explore the stifling relationship between desperately passive aggressive Albert, and his frustrated daydreamer son Harold.
They’re trapped in a ramshackle business as rag and bone men (ask your nan). Neither can live with or without the other. It’s recognisably post-war existentialism, and if it were first produced for the stage, could have ended up something like Waiting for Godot.
But the Godot in question here is woman. Not one woman, but the absence of any woman in their lives, ranging from deceased mothers, to lost loves and the hunt for a wife. Director Emma Rice has hammered home the point by casting an actress as an ever-present ghost that mostly floats or shimmies around the stage, and fills in the bits between episodes, rarely interacting directly with the two troubled men. Whether this enhances or over-eggs the point is down to personal taste.
Rice also fills the show with everything you’ve come to expect from a Kneehigh theatre production: musicality, choreography, clowning and inventive stagecraft. The junk-shop set is a magical unfolding box, which frequently and comically hinders the actors as they crash into things. The dancing is saucy fun, often contrasting with more tender moments. And the music is an interesting express tour through 1962-74, when the original series ran.
If you’re coming to see the show as a Steptoe fan, you might not appreciate the overt theatricality, but it will appeal to your sense of nostalgia. If you’re a Kneehigh fan, you won’t be disappointed by the playfulness and sensitivity of their latest adventure. Mark Shepherd and Dean Nolan are impressively daring in their portrayals — unafraid to change the tone at any moment, hurling props and each other all around the stage, and carefully selecting light moments of audience interaction.
Whatever you think of this theatrical outing, it should leave everyone wanting to go and discover Steptoe and Son all over again.
Steptoe and Son runs until Saturday 6 April 2013 at the Lyric Hammersmith, W6. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.