Steptoe And Son is a classic British comedy that aired during the 1960’s and 70’s. The series was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and centred around the cranky old Albert Steptoe, a rag and bone merchant, and his son Harold who wanted to do more in life than simply continue in the family business. Growing up through the 70s I have fond memories of watching this comedy series with my family and so I admit to having high expectations of this play adaptation.
On arrival at The 1812 Theatre, patrons are greeted with an array of second hand items cluttering one end of the foyer. More items are found along the front edges of the stage. But what impresses the most is the stage set itself. Clearly Neil Barnett, Christine Grant and Cirara Wolstenholme have been very busy collecting second hand “junk” to add to the superbly designed set (convened by John Mills). The 1812 Theatre are renowned for their quality sets – and again, they have raised their own benchmark. Audible gasps of “wow” could be heard amongst the audience as they perused the set – and this was before the show had even started.
The stage is cleverly divided into an outdoor and an indoor scene and they have managed to utilise every possible space on the stage to full advantage.
Walk-on applause is usually reserved for the truly big names of theatre – but at the opening night of Steptoe and Son, Keith Hutton received a huge round of applause as he entered the stage. The applause was not because he was Keith Hutton (in fact Hutton is almost unrecognisable in this character) – the applause was due his uncanny resemblance, in not only his physical appearance but also in mannerisms, to the original television character of Albert Steptoe. Hutton is quite simply brilliant in this role: mischievous, conniving, manipulative and cranky but all the while somehow endearing.
In the role of Harold Steptoe is Ed Kennett who is convincing as the long suffering son who dreams of more from life but is not quite able to step out and achieve it. Kennett effectively brings the vulnerability of Harold to the story and provides the justification to why he doesn’t leave his father and simply start a new life. There were a few early lines that were difficult to hear – either volume or accent – but this seemed to improve as the story unfolded.
Rounding out the cast are Fred Barker as the Vicar and Thelma Halse as Roxanne.
Director Christine Grant has adapted three episodes of this British comedy series for the stage. Wisely, she has chosen the pilot episode and episode one as the first act which effectively lays down the background to these characters. If you had never seen an episode of Steptoe and Son in your life it wouldn’t matter, as this play adaptation ensures no background knowledge is required. The end of act one had the audience laughing and chatting all the way through interval and eager for another “episode” in act two. This was a splendid opening night and with another couple of performances the cast will settle and further develop in their roles.
Grant has captured the essence of this dysfunctional family comedy, ensuring the audience waivers in their empathy for each character – wanting Harold to realise his dreams but then not wanting Albert to be left alone, feeling sorry for Harold one moment and then sorry for the Albert the next. The show is packed full of laughs – often at the expense of poor Harold.
There are some inevitable scene changes that need to take place, but full credit to the performers for maintaining their characters as they moved around the dim stage and made the necessary changes themselves.
Wardrobe by Christine Hibberd is well suited for the characters and the period. The clothing looks worn – and a little more dirt would only add to the overall impression of this “dirty old man”. Excellent lighting design by Robin Le Blond and sound design by Christine Grant complete what is a very high quality production.
Steptoe And Son is community theatre at its best and it’s hard to imagine a “professional production” could do much better. Whether you’re there to reminisce or seeing it for the first time, if you enjoy British comedy this play is a must.
Steptoe and Son is now playing at The 1812 Theatre.