ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
Steptoe and Son
The pair, who worked as rag and bone merchants are relentlessly joined together. Harold, the son who's around 40, is seemingly forever dreaming of another life. His father, dreading being alone, manipulates and pulls to get Harold to stay. The irony is that just as Harold seems able to take that leap away from his father's domain, he loses his nerve and stays. It's a situation we all can recognise in our experience.
On top of this family drama, was the ften stomach churning detritus of the rag and bone yard. Harold, full of Pinteresque pretension, decants leftovers of wine until he has a full bottle for his cocktail cabinet but doesn't first check whether someone has used the wine bottle to store something else.
In the first scene, The Offer, Albert (Mike Shepherd) and Harold (Dean Nolan) squabble about a plate. Albert argues that it's Crown Derby, Harold that it's Chelsea Red Anchor. But what the audience sees that the totters seem not to notice is that the plate has a large piece broken out of the side. It's families arguing over something that actually has no importance or value.
The third participant seen in the tv series was Hercules, the horse that pulled the totters' cart. Emma Rice uses a fairground horse to represent Hercules but the extra character in her fun filled interpretation of Steptoe is the addition of a female played by Kirsty Woodward. She will start as a little girl in kneehigh socks skipping round the two men with no dialogue. We see her later as Albert's dead wife Emily, preparing meals in the background or dancing with him — or as a bunny girl clad in pink as Harold dreams of a night out at the Ritz. . . or as the girlfriend that Harold thinks has stood him up. . . and finally, voiced, as Daphne, the woman who comes in between them.
The scenes I loved most were those with a joyous choreographed exuberance of dance to iconic pop music (Elvis ballads, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich's "Bend It" and Louis Armstrong). What really surprises and amuses here is the athleticism of Dean Nolan's Harold. Several stones over twenty, this is an elephant of a man with the dancing grace of a gazelle. There couldn't be anybody in the audience who doesn't smile.
The set has both rags and bones. The backdrop to the huge moon are blue dyed rags and a skeleton is on the roof of the wooden box which also has Albert's iron bedstead bed aloft. The wooden box living room, which doubles as a cart, closes to reveal Steptoe and Son painted on the wooden gates. Inside is much of the rubbish collected and a washing line of grubby and torn underwear, including Harold's extra extra extra large and torn Y fronts. Neil Murray's design is detailed, realistic and, if we could smell it, unsavoury!
The catchphrases from television were Harold describing his father as a "Dirty Old Man" and Albert's description in the programme of Harold as a "Greedy, hungry gutted great clodhopper". I think Emma Rice has been kinder to Albert Steptoe although we see his grossly manipulative behaviour, the fake heart attacks, the self pitying wheedling whenever it looks as if Harold will break away.
The first scenario "The Offer" looks at Harold's career opportunity, secondly "The Bird" is about Harold asking a girl to dinner which Albert cruelly disrupts, thirdly "The Holiday" has Harold dreaming of going somewhere other than Bognor and without Albert and finally, the tragic "Two's Company" eternal triangle.
The extremely tall Kirsty Woodward captures the essence of women from 10 to 60. Cornishmen Mike Shepherd and Dean Nolan are deeply into their characters give fine performances and brilliant dance scenes. We are reminded that both Steptoes were involved in a war. Albert claims a shrapnel wound that moves around and we learn that Harold did escape to the army.
Many of the audience at Hammersmith are coming to Steptoe for the first time, too young to compare this with the original. No matter. They love it.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.