Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REVIEW: The Knowledge at Charing Cross Theatre


Originally written as a screenplay by the late Jack Rosenthal, The Knowledge is one of Britain's most beloved films and, in 1980, was also nominated for a Bafta award for the Best Single Play. 

In this adaptation for the stage, the author's vividly human portrayals are perfectly translated by Simon Block and devotedly preserved by Maureen Lipman, as a director and Rosenthal's wife of over thirty years.

Studying for one of the most difficult examinations in the world, four aspiring black cab drivers are followed in their personal and professional struggles, whilst they attempt to obtain the prestigious green badge of the trade. For them, the long preparation for The Knowledge of London becomes a real journey, at the end of which their lives won't come out unscathed. 

Young Chris (Fabien Frankel) has spent all his life on the dole and his girlfriend Janet (Alice Felgate) is adamant that becoming a cabbie will finally help him to be proud of himself.

Ted (Ben Caplan) comes from three generations of cab drivers and, he's now the laughing stock of the family for not having obtained his own green badge yet. Luckily, his wife Val (Jenna Augen) supports him unconditionally, even when things don't go as planned.

Gordon's (James Alexandrou) inconclusive attitude applies to his professional conduct as well as to the integrity of his marriage to Brenda (Celine Abrahams) and it's no surprise that are both bound to fail.

The fourth, less developed, character is Miss Stavely (Louise Callaghan), a female cabbie-wannabe whose presence justifies most of the sexist jokes but, in fairness, is always given the last word, up to the very end and comes across as the most level-headed of the bunch.

To make things even more complicated, the examiner Mr. Burgess (Steven Pacey) is overly eager to maintain the best standards of successful entrants and, to do so, he tests their nerves enacting the most obnoxious situations. His aggravating and abusive behaviour is passed amongst students almost like a legend and he's known in the industry with the nickname of "The Vampire". Steven Pacey is memorable in the role and honours every line of Rosenthal's best developed character with his charismatic and highly entertaining presence.

Two fully-functioning traffic lights overlook Nicolai Hart-Hansen's split-level stage
and Lipman's engaging direction makes the best use of it, often overlapping the entrance and exit of the actors in the transitions between scenes. The result is an agile and well-paced comedy that retains its Seventies' flavour but bears a striking resemblance with the current socio-political climate. To use Lipman's perfectly worded comparison "we had a female Prime Minister, social unrest, a crisis in public services, a frightening combination of religion, revolution and violence, Idi Amin sending immigrants scattering and the IRA bombings, and a film star in the White House (albeit a comparatively sane one)."

If you've enjoyed Bob Brooks' film or, most simply, if you've ever wondered about the fella sat in a black cab, on the other side of the glass, The Knowledge gives you a live fascinating insight into one of London's quintessential (and sadly endangered) professions. After watching it, you won't look at a cabbie with the same eyes ever again.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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