Steptoe and Son, for those unaware (as I was), was a long-running British television show active from 1962-65, and again from 1970-74. I must admit that whilst not the biggest fan of the genre, (if I wanted to listen to barely comprehensible Cockneys, I could just go see my family) the show was a fantastic homage to the original series, excellently encapsulating the spirit and mannerisms of the original cast and bringing a slice of post-war London into the modern day.
As an insight into the now anachronistic concept of rag-and-bone men, it is fascinating – especially with the choice of stories that seamlessly introduce and expound on the premise. The evolution from Steptoe and Son to shows like Only Fools and Horses is clear, and also books like Danny, the Champion of the World. The fact of the matter is that they exemplify a fundamentally British spirit of gallows humour; because you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?
Steptoe and Son is a fantastic slice of life examination of an impoverished father-son duo, although the humour is raucous, puerile, and often slapstick to the extent of almost being a Carry On Cockney film, there are intelligent tropes and callbacks that suggest a greater intelligence behind the writing. However, the elements of wordplay are very far from the standard of the Two Ronnies.
It’s worth noting that if you are easily offended, this is not the show for you. The laissez-faire approach to outdated humour and views about making casual jokes and insults based on sexuality, country of origin, etc. is not for everyone.
The intimate size of the space and practised nature of the performance meant that adding microphones to the cast was definitely unnecessary – especially for Harold Steptoe, who shouts most of his lines in barely-contained rage and threats of violence against his curmudgeonly father. Steptoe Senior, on the other hand, spends his time making lewd puns and telling tall, lurid tales.
The issues examined – which are ever-present behind the jokes – are issues of classism, houseproudness, and shame. Harold shows awareness of their lower-class nature, particularly when presented with well-spoken characters like the priest. To be completely honest, I was not overly impressed – but I was vividly aware that I was not the target demographic. The rest of the audience seemed thoroughly satisfied. For fans of the show who want to witness like-minded souls give a faithful performance of a beloved cult classic, I can’t recommend it enough. For non-fans of the series, you will find little or nothing new, innovative, or of interest here.
John Hewer’s portrayal of Harold Steptoe embodies many of the original character’s mannerisms, but falls just short of perfect mimickery in a way that is a little jarring; not because it is imperfect, but because his overly loud voice and exuberant affectations are not particularly easy to watch. Jeremy Smith’s representation of Albert Steptoe, however, wonderfully embodies the spirit of the part, whilst adding a little something of his own personality to the role. Peter Hoggart’s varied performances of the milkman, vicar and news reporter bring an impressive chameleonic quality, enabling relatively stock characters to come to life effectively.
Running until 28th January at The Museum of Comedy and on tour until 22nd April around the coutry
Reviewer: Josh Mcloughlin
STEPTOE AND SON is produced by Hambledon Productions with the kind permission of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.