The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
Steptoe and Son

Just because a prune is wrinkled, it doesn't mean to say it's not tasty! — Albert Steptoe
Steptoe and Son Mike Shepherd as Albert and Dean Nolan as Harold
(Photo: Steve Tanner)
Emma Rice of the Truro based theatre company Kneehigh has a reputation for recreating for the stage classical pieces of film in her own inimitable and idiosyncratic style. Brief Encounter won worldwide praise and went to New York. Here she takes on Steptoe and Son, a BBC situation comedy of the 1960s, which was about the relationship, although nobody called them relationships then, between a father and his son. It was remade in the US as Sanford 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.

Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Steptoe and Son
Directed and Adapted by Emma Rice

Starring: Mike Shepherd, Dean Nolan, Kirsty Woodward
Designed by Neil Murray
Choreographer: Etta Murfitt
Music: Adrian Sutton
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth
Score and Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Projection Designer: Mic Pool
A Kneehigh Production with West Yorkshire Playhouse
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 8741 6850
Booking to 6th April 2013 at the Lyric Hammersmith
Booking 9th April to 13th April 2013 Sherman Cymru Cardiff Wales
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th March 2013 performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, London W6 0QL (Tube: Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Steptoe and Son
  • I disagree with the review of Steptoe and Son
  • The review made me eager to see Steptoe and Son
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from