Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Harold Steptoe, about to turn into the HulkThe sitcom Steptoe And Son has a chequered history. It started in the 1960s in black-and-white. Then it continued into the 70s in colour. They also made 2 movies, several BBC radio episodes, and finally an Australian stage show. Well, almost finally. Now, with both the lead actors dead, it’s just come back for one final stage show, written by one of the original two writers – Ray Galton - and old hand John Antrobus.

And yet, this is undeniably Steptoe at its best. There are no desperate attempts to re-evoke the original show – it just is the same show. Two men arguing on a single set for a long period of time – yes, yes this is definitely Steptoe And Son.

Haa-a-aa-ro-o-old!!Mind you, the plot – which involves Albert returning as a ghost to haunt his son – would never have fitted-in with the tone of the original TV show, but in another medium it’s possible to ask the audience to decide for themselves whether or not this is canon. And my vote would be yes, simply because I can see this sort of subject matter working as another one of their movies. Or maybe radio.

And with both the original actors long-since deceased, stage is probably the best way to do this. The audience is necessarily so far from the stage, that without the benefit of any close-ups, the two new leads (the perfect Harry Dickman and Jack Nightingale) appear identical to the originals. The theatre programme made the obligatory statement about how the new actors had been asked to bring their own fresh take on the roles, and not to impersonate the originals, but for me this just wasn’t in evidence. They were the same.

The mean-spirited hatred between Albert and his son Harold is as uncompromising here as it ever was before. In fact, some of it is easier to believe on stage than on TV. (as perhaps is Harold's gleeful chatting to the audience!)

There’s also an uncomfortable moment towards the end, when one character does something so unmotivated, that deep in my heart I knew it couldn’t be true. And thanks to such reliable writing, it turned out that it wasn’t.

If I have any problem with this production, it would purely be the cost-cutting production standards (an actor doubling-up, which always disappoints me, and you wouldn’t get on TV), and simply my own differing spiritual beliefs to the ones required for this story to be true. And those really are forgivable.

You dirty old man!
9 out of 10. Rest in peace Steptoe And Son, I was really happy to see you off today.

(Final giveaway moment here.)

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