Friday 22 March 2013

Theatre Review: Steptoe and Son (Lyric Hammersmith)

My review of Kneehigh's adaptation of Steptoe and Son  is up at One Stop Arts. Taster below; full thing here.  

Neil Murray's excellent design places a cart as cumbersome as Mother Courage's at the centre of the stage; a large moon hangs overhead and morphs, momentarily, into a clock and a screen. In the middle of a quarrel Steptoe (Mike Shepherd) and son (Dean Nolan) stop to bop, sometimes joined by a mercurial female figure, the Woman (Kirsty Woodward), who weaves her way through the action, in a series of guises that include trolley-dolly Bunny Girl and flower-power hippy. (The role is somewhat reminiscent of Meow Meow's turn as Lola in Kneehigh's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg adaptation.) Music, throughout, is central to the piece, but don't expect to hear the familiar clip-clop of the TV theme tune. Rather, Rice and sound designer Simon Baker opt for an eclectic set of songs (from Cliff Richard, The Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong and many others) to conjure moods, suggest the passing years, and gesture towards the wider world that seems to remain forever outside of the protagonists' grasp.

Some of these touches are striking and beguiling. The end of the first half, for example – a moment of resignation scored to the strains of Roy Orbison's "It's Over" – is sublime, while a sequence in which father and son dress for an important encounter, with Elvis's "Always on my Mind" playing on the gramophone, is as lovely a moment as I anticipate seeing on stage this year. At such times, Rice and her collaborators really do succeed in getting us to see the protagonists and their relationship freshly. The problem is that other elements feel too much like self-conscious "touches": extraneous bits of business insufficiently integrated into the whole.

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