Review: Steptoe and Son at Morecambe's West End Playhouse is nostalgia for new audiences

Another exciting opening night at the West End Playhouse in Morecambe, and it is not long after doors opening that it is full, and an extra chair or two is being put out for latecomers.
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I sip on one of the delicious 'juice-tails' available to buy, and examine what's different in the room from the last time I was there. I notice the walls and performance space have been punctuated with numerous new props, and, just as I settle myself, the lights are turned off, and the performance begins.

One commentator in the crowd noted afterwards how nice it was to be able to meet up and enjoy some culture 'in person', how Covid has made us miss so much. Matt Panesh and his West End Playhouse project have always sought to bring people together, and Steptoe and Son is a great way to do just that.

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Even with the varied age range in the room - young students around 18, me, 30, and others who might remember the eponymous duo's telly debut in the 70s - there was laughter, sympathy, and warm applause that united the whole room.

Matt Panesh and David Findlay as Harold and Albert in Steptoe and Son "The Offer" at the West End Playhouse. Photo by Micky Balshaw.Matt Panesh and David Findlay as Harold and Albert in Steptoe and Son "The Offer" at the West End Playhouse. Photo by Micky Balshaw.
Matt Panesh and David Findlay as Harold and Albert in Steptoe and Son "The Offer" at the West End Playhouse. Photo by Micky Balshaw.

I noted with interest that Matt (who is playing Harold Steptoe) told Beyond Radio in an interview that he and David Findlay (playing Albert Steptoe) had had to work hard on bringing the comedic elements out of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's script.

For me, one of the main differences between this live production and the original was that the humour seemed effortlessly more prominent, and the pathos in the piece, while still strong, did not feel as oppressive as the Corbett and Bramble portrayal.

This may partially be the effect of watching in a live audience, where you tend to share more in the emotional reactions of those around you. However, I know it is mainly down to the hard work of Matt and David to put their own vision of Steptoe across, and not simply ape their predecessors.

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Coming off their success of producing David’s original work 'Count Frankula's Castle' last October, this was a starkly different choice. Matt and David clearly have each other's back on stage, and know how to use their presence, stress, and timing to make you laugh, but Steptoe really provided an opportunity to work on the darker side of the emotional rainbow.

In aptly conveying the subtleties of the characters' tragic co-dependent relationship, they have done just that. Other evidence of Matt and David's consummate abilities came when a latecomer interrupted during one of Albert's many less-than-lethal heart attacks.

Matt simply incorporated the potential disruption into the piece and moved on, helping, as he always does, to make the audience welcome and keep the show on the road. Finally, without wishing to spoil the surprise altogether, David provided a musical display at the end that, again, brought the whole room together in recognition, appreciation, and participation.

I feel it goes without saying that I'd recommend this as an evening out. It is steeped in a nostalgia that certain generations will easily appreciate and enjoy.

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If tonight showed me one thing, though, it is that Matt and David's choice of material and hard work in delivering it pays off for a much wider audience than those that originally witnessed the Steptoe phenomenon. They're doing two more nights, so grab your tickets as soon as you can.

By Martin Palmer

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