Director and Adaptor: Emma Rice
Writers: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
Reviewer: Rosie Revell
The Public Reviews Rating:
Much loved television sit-com Steptoe and Son celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The word iconic can be bandied about a little too much these days but when it comes to classic comedy such as this it is a fitting description. Just the title is enough to conjure up half remembered images from its many television runs. Running from 1962 to 1974 the show made stars out of the father and son rag and bone men Wilfred Brambell (Albert) and Harry H Corbett (Harold) and they truly inhabited their roles.
It is with trepidation that any actor must take on these roles. It is hard for the audience not to make the comparisons. Pickles and Corbett owned these characters in every sense and it seems unfair to measure them against the actors here, but it is unfortunately inevitable. Dean Nolan (Harold) and Mike Shepherd (Albert) are not carbon copies of the originals and do not even attempt an impersonation. Their interpretation is deeper and darker than ever seen before with their television counterparts. They should not be judged on whether they can pretend to be iconic characters but whether or not they can breathe new life into something so familiar and make it their own.
Harold is the same frustrated middle aged man he always was, desperate to escape the “dirty old man” and better himself at every turn as time passes around him. The Harold here seems softer and more duty bound than Corbett’s comically arrogant version. Nolan’s Harold is a gentle giant, all talk and bluster, but surprisingly agile when it comes to the dance numbers in the show. Albert is the same crafty, scheming old man desperate not to lose his son whilst the years pass around him. Yes he’s still dirty but Shepherd’s Albert is softer and needier than he ever was on screen. He lacks Pickles’ malevolent glee and twinkle in his eye. Both actors are thoroughly impressive and totally convince in their roles and hold the audience’s rapt attention throughout the show. One minor niggle is them playing such famously Cockney characters with broad Cornish accents.
Director, Emma Rice has admitted she wanted to focus on the lack of femininity in the Steptoe’s lives. She has created an everywoman character who is whatever the Steptoe’s need her to be wife, mother, prospective girlfriend and lost love. Billed as just “Woman”, Kirsty Woodward breathes life and cheekiness into what is essentially a pointless role but the audience can never really get to grips with her purpose here.
The show uses music to fantastic effect. The major events are set to a backdrop of pre-existing songs that create a unique soundtrack and voice for the show. Highlights include Nolan dancing to the Perry Mason theme and Nolan and Shepherd’s channelling of Louis Armstrong’s Motherless Child. The reimagined Steptoe theme mixed with Daydream will be playing in the audience’s heads long after the play ends.
This reimagining is a totally new experience of four episodes. This version, adapted and directed by Emma Rice is successful due to her loving attention in recreating the source scripts. It is not that it is not a good play, it is just lacking that extra sparkle that would make it as special as its source material. It is hard to find the humour here which is what the audience are expecting. The words are familiar, as are the jokes, but there is an added dimension of darkness and depth that didn’t seem to be there before and leaves the audience unsettled.