Kneehigh’s Steptoe and Son at the Curve Theatre

The Curve, Leicester is a phenomenal theatre which allows the audience a fairly decent view regardless of seating. I was lucky enough, however, to be seated in Row F, bang in the middle – staring head-on at the ‘Steptoe and Son’ branded doubled-up cart and house. A large, overbearingly gloomy moon hangs over the stage, acting as a metaphor for the frustrated yet comforting relationship of father and son, originally played by Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell.

Emma Rice and her company stick to the original script and storyline, which must revive a delightful nostalgia in many of the older members of the audience. I, though, had chosen to watch the first episode of the sitcom the night before, so the first twenty minutes or so were disappointing for me, as I felt uncannily like I was in 3D repeat of the episode I watched barely 24 hours prior. My bad.

There was an addition to the cast of Albert and Harold though. ‘The Woman’, played by Kirsty Woodward, takes the role of a variety of extra characters such as ‘The Bird’ in the aptly-titled episode, the doctor in another, and a general entertainer and prop-mover! Although her speaking roles were represented well, her silently charming, cutesy demeanour paired with cheesy smiles to the audience did not impress me. Maybe I preferred the hopelessness of the male pair too much.

The relationship between Mike Shepherd, the crafty yet endearing father, and Dean Nolan, the unfulfilled and desperate son, was simultaneously despairing and heartening. I was originally baffled by their West Country accents, seeing as the rag and bone pair are from Shepherd’s Bush, and assumedly had never left, apart from their annual Bognor holidays. Nevertheless Harold’s utter exasperation towards his father, emphasised by their inevitable interdependence, is portrayed effectually, as the son laments his lost time and, unavoidably, lost future.

The soundtrack of the play included popular music of the time, from Rolling Stones and Cliff Richard to the original ‘Daydream’ by Wallace Collection. This was welcomed, however what proceeded several times was a merry jive or a melancholic slow dance between all three cast members, which became slightly tiresome. Albert’s sentimental moments with the ghost of his wife were understandable, but the kicks and splits of Harold were randomly executed. Admittedly, these music scenes did make me want to rush into the next room, where Question Time was being filmed, for a spot of light relief.

A poignant moment came when Harold was helping his father to dress, near the end of Steptoe and Son. The comforting scene encompassed the actions and feelings of those who may be looking after older loved-ones today, and it roused a scene of harmony, empathy and a sweet sadness. This pathos, however, did leave a bittersweet undertone to a play which had already, in my opinion, failed to live up to the maddened hilarity of the original series. Having experienced One Man, Two Guvnors twice and giggled through Avenue Q, I plainly love a good comedy, yet this missed the mark and left me mourning for their miserable lives.

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