I am a great admirer of Kneehigh and still recall their brilliant production of Brief Encounter. So I expected high things from Steptoe and Son and while admitting a lot of the audience seemed (after a slow start) to quickly embrace the production, it was only well into the second half that I started to enjoy the show.
Being of an age where Steptoe and Son can still be recalled, with its iconic leads, does not help, as no matter what happens on stage you still remember the TV (and film) personas of Harold and Albert Steptoe. They were so well written and cast that they will live on for years (despite the TV show ending in the 1970’s.)
Likewise the recent tours of Dad’s Army recaptured the TV show by being brilliantly cast so it was if the TV show had once more come to life. But this is not the idea here and with Kneehigh you would not expect it to be.
The play runs for two hours (including interval) and uses four Ray Galton and Alan Simpson scripts as it backbone. But weaving these stories together is the music of the 60’s and 70’s (the timespan the TV series) and Kirsty Woodward as “the woman”. Woodward plays many characters, from a bunny girl to the ghost of Alberts’ wife, as well as his new girlfriend who turn out to be a past girlfriend of Harolds’.
The cast dance between the stories and Dean Nolan as Harold proves to be very light on his feet , winning a lot of new fans. His miming of a Louis Armstrong record was the highlight of the production. While Mike Shepherd, as Albert, fairs less well as his “dirty old man” as Harold would say, at times seems to be a impersonation of the TV character, unlike Deans “Harold”.
If you are of an age where Steptoe and Son are not engraved on your memory or are willing to accept a new approach to a classic TV programme this will work for you. For me though it fell short of being a classic Kneehigh Production and too often just did not gel together.