Friday, January 25, 2013

Steptoe and Son, generated in West Yorkshire, has been touring since last summer and arrived this week at Bristol Old Vic, continuing their long association with Kneehigh Theatre Company ~ “Good to be home” was the company’s Facebook message. Did you know Galton and Simpson dreamed up the idea for the TV series lying on their backs on a carpet? Me neither. Apparently a habit they’d used since they first met in a sanitorium as young men both with tuberculosis and began a collaboration that virtually invented the genre sit-com. Artistic Director Emma Rice adapted four episodes using the original scripts embellished them with trademark Kneehigh physicality ~ abrupt, energetic, and often macabre ~ each story demonstrating that Satrean hell combined with Godot-waiting loneliness made famous by two rag-and-bone man in a relationship that turns Forster’s famous epigram on its head. Only disconnect would be the mantra for Harold and Albert. Doesn’t sound much like a comedy put like that, and it isn’t really, it’s a tale full of fury and pathos that ultimately lacks variety, with Harold and Albert as trapped as Rimmer and Lister in their Red Dwarf space capsule but in a repetitive scenario. There are some lighter sequences, many provided by The Woman, an emblem of era and epitome of lost joy in all their longing dreams (brilliantly played by Kirsty Woodward.) Others come from a cleverly evocative soundtrack and dainty capering. But it takes a while not to miss those distinctive original voices, veering from sly triumph to bleak dejection ~ Dean Nolan's Harold, in particular, finds the belligerance but not the existential angst and delusions of glamour that Harry H Corbett embodied so well. The set is marvellous, an extreme version of the imagery of early episodes and there were tender moments of real poignancy but ultimately there's a mismatch: the dark physicality that Kneehigh does so well doesn’t really connect with scripts which expressed tenderly, terrifyingly, but also platitudinously, the dysfunction of ordinary life.

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