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Steptoe And Son in Murder At Oil Drum Lane

Published 17 April 2008

The dirty old man and his long-tortured son are back, but this time on the stage. During the 1960s and 1970s, sitcom Steptoe And Son was one of the UK’s most popular television shows, breaking the comedy mould by casting actors instead of comedians and blending laughter with a heavy helping of tragedy. After decades in retirement, the nation’s favourite rag and bone men returned to the public eye last night in Murder At Oil Drum Lane at the Comedy theatre. Matthew Amer was there…

Albert Steptoe is dead. His lifetime of tormenting his only child came to an end on the point of a spear propelled by the embittered Harold. That was all years ago. Since then Harold has been on the run in South America, dodging the police and finally free to live his own life.

When Harold, wishing to clear his name, returns to England, he pays one final visit to his old family home; a home now owned by the National Trust and run by a woman who scatters dust over its contents to make them look authentic. Albert has been haunting the house since his untimely death, awaiting an act of contrition from his son that will free him from his state of limbo. Now is his chance, all he has to do is make Harold release him.

Harry H Corbett and Wilfred Brambell are unmistakable as television’s original father and son team. Their legacy is written into comedy history. Jake Nightingale and Harry Dickman, the current incumbents of the Steptoe roles, provide a close approximation of the two, without descending into direct imitation.

Nigel Hook’s set is a fantastic hotch-potch of a totter’s house; in one corner a stuffed bear in a scarf half-hidden behind a skeleton, on the walls, mounted heads – both deer and fish – horse brasses and a framed picture which revolves to show Chaplin, Hitler, Mussolini or Churchill as required.

Amid this set the audience is treated to a look back over the lives of the Steptoes, as time and again Harold strives to better his life, while Albert, afraid of being left on his own, deliberately undermines everything his son does, from selling him to the Nazis and trapping him under the floor to revealing that the love of his life is actually his sister.

The script, provided by original Steptoe creator Ray Galton and long-time collaborator John Antrobus, harks back to elements that made the original series so popular. No-one will be surprised to see a nude Albert eating pickled onions in the bath, or a urine sample mistaken for wine, or to hear Albert deliver lines such as “If you’re cleaning you’re teeth, clean mine as well!”

In his programme notes, Galton mentions that this is probably the last we’ll see of Steptoe And Son, before adding, teasingly, “you never know.”

Steptoe And Son in Murder At Oil Drum Lane is currently booking at the Comedy theatre until 22 April.  em>MA

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