Venue: The Lowry
Always cited as a prime example of the Golden Age of TV sitcom, Steptoe and Son was an unusual success story; you wouldn’t think stories about a couple of rag and bone men held much potential. Particularly since it was the epitome of lives of quiet, claustrophobic, desperation: Chekhov meets Beckett.
The play takes the shape of four episodes, set in a yard ingeniously re-imagined with an overstuffed cart full of rubbish and complete with carousel horse. Oddly enough, to me, whereas with the TV series, sympathies lay mostly with the son’s longing to escape, to better himself, here it is somehow reversed even though the father is still a whining manipulator, an expert in emotional blackmail, perhaps because he seems less sleazy and livelier whereas the former seems more of a violent bully. Excellent actors both, interestingly, there is little resemblance to the originals; even the notorious catchphrase pronounced with a different intonation.
In the final episode, with its focus again reversed, on Albert’s future and Harold’s past, there are scenes of great tenderness: Mike Shepherd and Dean Nolan carefully dressing each other up for a special evening. Here, as in the rest of the play, their essential loneliness is quite heartbreaking.
Cleverly, a woman’s place, here, is to leaven the mix, which Kirsty Woodward does beautifully, incorporating such roles as Bunny Girl and Doctor. Over the top song and dance routines, mime, pantomime, fantasy, all are thrown into the mix; if whimsical, the curious juxtaposition works a treat.
Surreal or bizarre, as the fancy takes you, not really my cup of tea. However, for many, Kneehigh, creators of some memorable theatre (Bacchae, Hansel and Gretel), have done it again.
- Carole Baldock (Reviewed in Liverpool)