By Ray Galton and John Antrobus
Directed by Roger Smith
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Date : Monday 23rd October 2006
This was an entertaining romp through some of the much-loved set pieces of the old Steptoe and Son series, together with some linking material and a context. It was enjoyable, though it never reached the heights, or depths, of the original. The performances were fantastic, both actors looked sufficiently like their counterparts to satisfy most ardent fans, and they had the mannerism and accents down pat.
The set-up was current day, with the National Trust having taken over their old rag-and-bone yard, keeping it intact as an example of a particular era and trade. The comedy here was in the attention to detail – when the manager tidies up he puts more dust on the table instead of cleaning it off! Harold has returned after 40 years of living abroad, on the run after murdering his father with an assegai. (Accidentally, as it turns out.) He wants to have one last look at the old place. This was one of the few quibbles I had about the casting – although Harold should be even older than his father was at the time of the murder, he still looks about 35 – 40. I was happy enough, though, as it made the flashbacks more credible – Harold’s age ranges from 8 upwards.
Naturally, Albert’s ghost is also haunting the place, and when Harold chances to get locked in for the night, his father’s ghost accosts him with a request for Harold to sign his official form so he stops being earthbound and can go to heaven. They argue, of course, and Harold starts retelling the story of their lives together from his childhood, hence the flashbacks. We see many of the plots resurface that we know and love so well, often reworked slightly, and with some new material, or at any rate, material I didn’t remember. It was good fun, fairly predictable, but still enjoyable. We saw Harold being killed off so he couldn’t go back toHarrow, being locked in the basement so he wouldn’t have to fight in WWII, and when he finds the love of his life, the daughter of a rival rag-and-bone man, Albert drives them apart by telling them he is actually the girl’s father. All lies, of course.
Eventually, Harold agrees to sign the old man’s paper, and then he discovers another of the ways Albert’s cheated him. He gets so angry, he has a heart attack, and after the lights are temporarily dimmed, we see him, resurrected as a ghost, standing next to Albert, while his body still lies on the floor. Spooky! After a couple of final revelations, they head off to heaven on the horse and cart, cunningly concealed behind the door.
Good fun, but it could probably do with some rewriting to tighten it up in places. The performances were better than the rating I’ve given the production as a whole – only the writing let it down a bit.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me