"The words, situations, characters and basic genius of this script are all the work and imagination of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. I have laughed and wept in equal measure as I made my way through the hours of tender, cruel and surprising scripts that made up the Steptoe and Son cannon. It has been the chance of a lifetime to dive into, and explore, such an iconic and important body of work.
If I was interested by Steptoe and Son before, I love and know them now. The work is deeper, darker and more intricate than I ever realised, the period rich, relevant and somehow tragic. A reef of childhood memories and grown-up knowledge to examine.
I have chosen four episodes as the basis for this script, a spine or map if you like. These are The Offer, The Bird. The Holiday and Two’s Company. I have chosen these to provide an emotional arc for audience and a narrative journey for the characters. I have left intact almost all of the original stage directions. They give such an insight into the way Galton and Simpson imagined the characters that they were too precious to even edit. These offer as much of an emotional map, if not more, than the spoken words do.
What I have tried to bring is a fresh lens; a way of looking at the characters and situation anew. Firstly, there is a lens of femininity. I have explored the presence, or lack of presence in their lives, of the very thing that Harold and Albert cannot find or hold on to – a woman. I have created a character, circling the action and the two men. She is on the outside, sometimes calling like a siren, sometimes knocking to come in. She creates a soundtrack for the piece and brings colour, promise, vitality and hope. Throughout the action she transforms. She slowly changes clothes, from stockings and sensible shoes, to waspies and false eyelashes, to miniskirts and a bikini. Here, we see a woman change from girl to mother, from lover to wife, from factory worker to free spirit and, eventually, to an independent person. These two desperately lonely men miss her on every level, left behind by 2 World Wars, poverty and simple bad luck.
The second lens is that of the men’s inner lives: their experience of war, love and fantasy. I have allowed Harold and Albert at key points to emerge from their situation. They briefly reveal otherwise repressed aspects of themselves as they dance and dream of their pasts and futures.
Lastly, I have put in the lens of time, tracing its passing with music, fashion and image. The world changed whilst these two battled, worked and got old. Man walked on the moon, England won the World Cup, leaders were shot and bras were burnt.
I thought that I might have needed to employ more cleverness or conceit to re imagine these television scripts for the stage, but found that they were so perfectly formed and crafted that very little cleverness was needed. I have tried only to enable and reveal the heartbreaking and perfectly observed characters that had generations glued to their TV’s for over a decade. I am so lucky! I feel I am walking through history: my parents’, my grandparent’s and my own.
I was a little bit young to understand it, and even watch it. I remember seeing the trailers on TV and pretending that I couldn’t sleep so I could take a look. The men made me uncomfortable and their cruelty to one another was tough viewing but they were fascinating. The dirt, the desire for sex, the claustrophobia. Even as a child, I recognized these feelings, even if I didn’t understand them. As I write this, I realise that the themes are, of course, very fairy tale… dirt, sex, cruelty, freedom! Ring any bells? I hadn’t thought of Steptoe for decades, but as my parents became older and as I dealt with my own issues of entrapment and duty, Steptoe popped into my mind. As an adult, it now didn’t feel like a retro TV programme but a significant text, exploring important themes. And this is how I have approached it, in the same way as one might approach a Beckett or a Pinter or an Ayckbourn. I think the writing is brilliant: Galton and Simpson were the voice of a generation and so very British. I haven’t trapped the work in comedy, I have let it open out into epic themes and universal dilemmas.This is big stuff and I have let it be so! "