THEATRE directors like to play around with Shakespeare so one can understand why Emma Rice might like to try the same with another sort of classic, the television series Steptoe and Son.
She is joint artistic director of the Cornwall-based Kneehigh theatre company so this version of the much-loved show has a distinct West Country tang.
While using much of the original dialogue by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson she has added some of her own together with pop music from the 1960s and 1970s when the series was first broadcast.
It’s all a little disorientating for those of us who remember the show which oddly enough ran in two batches, some in the early 1960s until it was revived some years later in the early 1970s.
You have to forget Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett’s memorable interpretations of the two roles as Mike Shepherd as the old man Albert and Dean Nolan as his son Harold are rather different.
Visually reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy (with Nolan as Laurel) they bicker as of old but with distinct changes in personality – Albert does not seem as frail and Harold not quite as pretentious – and with Cornish accents.
There are times when they dance and sing and are often joined by Kirsty Woodward in a variety of female (and one male) roles.
But the humour still works plus the poignancy – Galton and Simpson were masters of their craft.
Three episodes from the 1960s are used including the very first The Offer and one from the 1970s, Two’s Company.
The set is mostly contained in a large box bearing the name Steptoe & Son scrap merchants which opens up to reveal a clutter of scrap with the upstairs bed on top of the box. Most of the action takes place in front of the box.
The stories are slight – Harold planning an overseas holiday, Albert feigning illness, Harold inviting a girl round – but the strength of the piece is in the two characters and their relationship: Harold wants to escape to better things, Albert does not want change.
The final episode Two’s Company is the strongest, emphasising the married- like state of father and son and their love for each other.
The Music Hall presentation with the episode titles displayed, the song and dance and the music gives the show some theatricality which is both a delight and a distraction.
One can’t expect a pure copy of the series (which ran to 58 episodes) but this theatre version supplies a fair taste of the original.
Like the scrap yard itself, it’s a bit messy at times but contains some real gold and it’s good to see the pair back centre stage.