Theatre Review: Steptoe and Son at the Lyric Hammersmith

British sitcom Steptoe and Son first hit television screens on 4th January 1962. Following the tumultuous relationship between a father and son in the scrap-selling business, the BBC One show ran for eight seasons, produced 57 episodes and didn’t finish until 1974. Spin-offs were made in Sweden, the Netherlands and the US, and two films were released in the UK in ’72 and ’73. In 2004, Steptoe and Son was voted 15th in Britain’s Best Sitcom awards.

Steptoe-and-SonThis year, “dirty old man” Albert and son Harold have returned, but this time to the stage. The Kneehigh and West Yorkshire Playhouse have brought the iconic series back home to the Lyric Hammersmith in West London.

Laughs are rife from the start. Mike Shepherd (Albert) and Dean Nolan (Harold) have chemistry that rings true of a father-son relationship. From small gestures to gait, from physical interaction and hilarious dance moves to voice, the pair is perfectly in tune throughout the performance. Their quick fire exchanges in the stichomythia scenes were performed superbly and it really did seem like they had been together (in the scrap yard) forever.

The scrap yard was depicted by a large cart centre stage, which doubled as their home. The set was crowded: a model horse stage right, a record box stage left, a large orb upstage, bits of scrap downstage, this disorder worked well and conveyed both the chaotic nature of their work and their relationship.

Unfortunately, the plot was very weak. Director Emma Rice had the pair bumble along irritating each other for the majority of the performance, occasionally interspersed with more tender scenes that suggested they cared about each other – a message that wasn’t strong enough to warrant a two-hour performance and felt, by the second half, exceedingly drawn out.

Rice also added a female character (Kirsty Woodward) who, in addition to playing numerous bland roles that never successfully meshed with Albert and Harold, acted as a physical representation of time. Through her dramatic costume changes, including a playboy bunny and a 60s hippy, the audience could gauge the shift of years and eras.

Despite its lack of backbone, Steptoe and Son was entertaining. Shepherd and Nolan both gave worthy performances, recreating the slap-stick comedy of their 60s predecessors. Woodward didn’t have the opportunity to shine, which considering her previous performances was a shame. A wasted opportunity – it was good, but with a stronger script it could have been great.


Alice Audley

Steptoe and Son is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 6th April 2013. For further information or to book tickets, click here


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