A lonely father and son scraping a living as rag-and-bone men and rubbing each other up the wrong way made for an extraordinary 12-year run of sitcom episodes in the 1960s and 70s. But that’s about as far as the similarity extends between Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s original BBC series and this new stage production from physical theatre specialists Kneehigh.
Joint artistic director Emma Rice has taken four of the television scripts and adapted them for a tour, fifty years on from the first screenings. But in spite of the cast’s energy and commitment, and the stuffing of lots of entertaining business into the gaps between lines, there’s a nagging question at the back of one’s mind throughout: why?
Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett made their characters of Albert and Harold so iconic that it’s a wise decision to move away from them entirely. Thus Mike Shepherd’s wiry, agile Albert and Dean Nolan’s vast but nimble Harold share little more than the lines with their TV counterparts in what amounts to a series of duologues interspersed with Kneehigh’s trademark knockabout comedy.
The fact that most of the laughs come from the inserted new business reflects significantly on the scripts, which seem slow, dated and (dare I say it?) a little pedestrian. Rice throws in an additional figure, an unnamed woman, who frames the episodes with some period outfits and LPs as well as the occasional walk-on role, but essentially it’s a two-hander, ably and confidently delivered by Shepherd and Nolan.
There’s some poignant pondering on the nature of loneliness – each of the pair suffers in their own way – and on the inextricable, trapping ties between father and son, but in the end it’s an oddly unsatisfying mash-up that serves neither to reinvigorate the original nor to mint a fresh new version for the 21st Century.