Using his body and voice, Niv Petel weaves a vivid and detailed familial relationship in KNOCK KNOCK, a physical solo show exploring the effects of National Service on a single mother and her only son in Israel.
In a country where tensions between political groups run high, borders are constantly inflammable and National Service is compulsory, the risk of death is an everyday occurrence. KNOCK KNOCK is inspired by real events and cuts through the politics of the Middle East to tell a story about parenthood, friendship, love and sacrifice.
Children are destined to be soldiers from the day they are born; their parents, who were all soldiers once themselves know that one day a KNOCK KNOCK on the front door might change their lives forever.
Nev Petel recently took time out to talk about the production.
Q: What (or who) inspired you to write KNOCK KNOCK?
Niv: Initially the hero of the play began her way as a private joke between me and my best friend. This character, a typical “Jewish Mother”, popped up into our conversations, humorously commenting, complaining, lecturing or just sharing her point of view of the world, which always revolved around raising her beloved only-son.
The reality in where I come from is extremely polar, at least as I experience it. In a nut shell, you need to be a highly skilled emotional “acrobat”, and safely “hop” between birthdays and funerals. Metaphorically, of course. But also not. Inevitably, this dichotomic reality also inspired the writing and found its way into the play. Basically, if you take my mum, the reality in my country, and a sprinkle of my sense of humour – you‘ll get KNOCK KNOCK. My show is dedicated to mothers, wherever they are in the world.
Q: What is at the heart of the storyline?
Niv: Brave single mother that gives everything she can to raise her only son, faces a life-changing dilemma, in a place where borders are constantly inflammable, national service is compulsory, and tension between life and death runs high.
Q: What are the pros and cons of working in a solo show?
Niv: Firstly, you are alone on stage. Terrifying!!! There’s no one to play with, to react to, to act on and to be surprised by. If you make a mistake, there’s no one else on stage to come for help, and once you stepped on stage, there’s no turning back until the end of the show.
On the other hand, you are alone on stage. Terrific!!! You’ve got the whole stage for yourself to play, you surprise yourself, you act on and react to yourself (or an imaginary partner, or the audience, or the three of them, depends on the theatrical approach that was chosen for the show). It’s like going on a crazy ride at the funfair – you leave the earth for the ride, and before you know it, it’s over and you’re back.
Q: You have lived and worked in the UK and in Israel – how does theatre and performing arts compare?
Niv: Both in Israel and in the UK I recognize the same passion, same hunger, creativity, curiosity, innovation and verity within the theatre and performing arts fields. But the size of arts’ industry in the UK is enormous, and it’s constantly generating work opportunities in an extent I have never experienced in Israel. The difference in the budgets is very notable. And fundamentally, if you put aside temporary struggles every now and then, centuries of artistic activity in this part of the world created a government supported system that is deeply rooted in the culture and allows this industry to flourish.
Q: You are a writer and performer – why both and not one or the other?
Niv: One of the courses in the first year of acting in The Performing Arts Studio Yoram Loewinstein, Tel-Aviv, where I trained, was all about creating your own piece, with the view of developing yourself as an artist, and generating work for yourself. I didn’t do enough of it after I graduated. Maybe because I was lucky to almost constantly be working as an actor. But the writing virus was probably “incubating” in me, because when I did my MA in Performance at Mountview Academy Of Theatre Arts in London, I realized how powerful can a generative artistry be. You learn so much about yourself, you develop your skills, you get to meet your profession from different angles, you expand your network, and, of course, you create job opportunities to yourself.
Q: Being a solo performer – how do you get any critique of your performances?
Niv: Ooohh… the festering pressure point of the performer… How do I look? How do I sound? Is it effective? Does it work at all??? Well, I film myself. A lot. Then watch it and critique myself. And then I show it to one or two colleagues that I trust and like to work with. It’s a delicate balance. Too many opinions – and you’re lost. Not letting anyone in at all – and you might get lost too. At some point, though, you need to just trust yourself, and hope.
Q: Why should everyone get along to see Knock Knock?
Niv: It’s gut kicking, surprising, funny, and sincere. I hope…
Niv Petel is an Israeli actor who originally trained at The Performing Arts Studio of Yoram Leowenstein, Tel-Aviv and Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. Niv has worked both on stage and as a voice over artist and has previously won the award for Best Actor in theatre for children and youth in Israel, 2014 for his role in the one-man show Snowball. As a member of the physical theatre ensemble ‘Just KatzIt Dance Theatre Company’, Niv was one of the performers/creators of a show named According to Law. This unique show explored the relationship between the creator, the performer, and the audience, and was a critics’ pick in Time Out Tel-Aviv. Recently, Niv performed in the West End as the Egyptian pharaoh, Rameses, in NotMoses (The Arts Theatre).
Set and costume design is by Rhiannon White who has previously designed for Walk the Plank and Liverpool Open Culture and owner of puppetry company Twitching Tales that brings puppets to events across the county and has recently featured on BBC NorthWest Tonight.
Lighting design is by Oliver Bush who most recently designed The Gin Chronicles at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Julius Caesar at Brighton Fringe and the UK tour of Life On Wheels, his designs have won awards from The Association of Lighting Designers. Future projects include; The Ruby Slippers, The Liverbird, and the return of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee later this year.
Alan Boulter Productions
Written and performed by Niv Petel
The Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street, London, NW1 7BU
Tue 25 Oct – Sun 6 Nov, 7.30pm (6.30pm Sundays)
Press Night: Wed 26 Oct, 7.30pm
Tickets £8 – £10 (online booking fee applies)