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Steptoe and Son – Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne

Writer and Director: Emma Rice

Reviewer: Michael Hunter


Steptoe and sonTake an almighty wedge of nostalgic comedy history, give it a bit of a wipe down with a wet cloth, and come up with something that looks fresh on the eye and tingles your tummy with delight – that is what writer and director Emma Rice has done with the scripts of Galton and Simpson’s Steptoe and Son, the current Kneehigh production from the stables of the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Anybody who has seen the brilliant original BBC series, from the late 60’s onwards (and one of the repeats that isn’t shouted at about), will know that the content, a darkly rich humour with a splattering of social awareness commentary, was a huge success.

With Emma Rice’s adaptation, the social aspect along with the father-son love/hate relationship has been brought to its ugly head.Four episodes have been chosen and tinkered with to highlight this to great effect.

The Offer, starts the ball rolling nicely in the love/hate stakes with Harold (Dean Nolan) being totally fed up of putting up with his father Albert (Mike Shepherd). Wanting out of the family business, dreaming of being a top executive is all that is on Harolds mind. The clutter of the yard with the un-sellable items, along with the malingering Albert has had its toll. Of course this doesn’t go to plan, with hurdles being placed in every opportune moment.

The Bird, another ‘getting away from his father’ tale, had Harold scrubbing up getting ready for a date, of course the scornful bating from Albert is incessant, as is his pleas not to leave him home alone, so a dinner date is set up at home, in the stinky yard.

With Roxanne (Kirsty Woodward) teasing the audience with her choices of dress and sexy splendour, we see the main protagonists pulling together for a change getting things spic and span. A womans prerogative is to be late tho, so when after an hour of lateness the bickering between the two is comedy personified.

The Holiday, again had Harold wanting to go his own way; this time for his first ever holiday abroad, for the first time with out his ‘getting in the way’ father. Normally they both go together to a seaside resort, but when the brochures arrive, Albert is taken aback that he is going to be left to fend for himself. The lengths that Albert will go to force his pity onto his son is very believable and heartfelt at times.

In Two’s Company, Albert is in the mood to seek out a new soulmate, somebody that will care for him in his hour and time of need. After a local ‘Darby and Joan’ club meeting he tells Harold that he has met somebody else, and is intending to marry her. This of course turns the tables, with the Harold becoming upset at his fathers plans.

Of course, plans in this comedy never go smoothly with rivalry at the forefront of the topic.

In all of the segments, dreamscape portions were introduced, along with likewise music. Recollections of youthful times, marriage, sex and awakenings were unveiled with the introduction of a woman (Kirsty Woodward). She danced and flirted to her hearts content with Steptoe and his Son.

The staging created by the workshops of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is very in tune with what we come to expect from Steptoe and Son, horse (not a real one) and cart (which doubles as their living space), this is all very effective.

The original writing of the authors is something to always be thankful of, but within new directions, as with the likes of Emma Rice, stories of old can be brought back to life with superb results.

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