Down memory lane with Steptoe and Son

Steptoe and Son, Warwick Arts Centre, until tomorrow (Saturday) Box office: 024 7652 4524

Wednesday, 24th October 2012, 10:51 am

For us sixty somethings this was a wonderful bit of 1960s nostalgia.

It brought back memories of the TV sitcom featuring Harry H Corbett and Wilfred Bramble as the bickering rag and bone men of Shepherds Bush in London.

But Kneehigh theatre director Emma Rice has resisted the temptation to slavishly copy the original characters, Harold and his dad Albert.

This pair have Cornish accents. Albert, played by Mike Shepherd, is not so much of a “dirty old man”, healthier and better looking. And the excellent Dean Nolan as Harold is less morose than Corbett and, for a big man, shows an athletic ability, dancing and leaping across the stage, even doing the splits at one stage. But he has the same sardonic approach to his father as Corbett and is equally desperate to escape his junk yard hell for better things.

This is well illustrated in the first of the play’s four vintage Galton and Simpson-scripted episodes, The Offer, in which Harold constantly taunts Albert that he has been offered another job, through which he can make something of himself. But Albert successfully cuts off his escape route by feigning illness and denying him use of the horse. Nolan tries desperately to pull the cart himself, collapses on the ground exhausted and realises he can never get away from the old man.

The theme is repeated in The Holiday and The Bird, in which Albert again thwarts his son from going away on holiday by himself and having a girlfriend round for dinner.

Rice cleverly concludes the story with the episode Two’s Company which emphasises that the pair are effectively a married couple, showing great tenderness in helping each other to dress for an evening out.

The main difference in this modern version is the inclusion of a woman (Kirsty Woodward) who introduces each episode by playing classic 60s songs from stars such as Elvis and Cliff Richard on an old record player. She has various roles in the action, including girlfriend, wife and fiancee but mainly floats about the stage as an attractive relief from the grim junk yard environment.

The set, designed by Neil Murray, is brilliant with a moon overhanging Albert’s untidy bedroom, above the yard housing lots of junk piled inside a large wooden cart, which opens up to provide another room for the action.

Surprisingly, the arts centre audience was not dominated by pensioners who saw the original TV series. They were mostly teenage students who seemed to enjoy the jokes and the characters and gave the play a rousing reception at the end.

Peter Gawthorpe