The Knowledge is currently playing to audiences in Charing Cross Theatre London. Some of you may recognise the title of the play and you’d be right to, the piece was originally a feature film penned by the multiple BAFTA award-winner writer Jack Rosenthal CBE. The original starred Maureen Lipman, Lesley Joseph, Mick Ford, Jonathan Lynn and Nigel Hawthorne. Move forward almost 40 years and Maureen Lipman is again involved in the production, although this time she is not a long-suffering wife, but is directing the production that has been adapted for the stage by Simon Block.
Those of you who live in London, and/or other big cities and pay attention to the news will no doubt be aware of the UBER phenomena, alongside their court trials and pending license renewal this month. It seems a perfect time to engage with the beautifully written script about London Taxi Drivers, the legends that are black cab drivers.
The play starts in 1979 and takes place over a period of 2 years and 8 months, following the trajectories of two woman and three working-class men, and their long-suffering partners, as they decide to take on “the knowledge” so they can be their own bosses and drive a black cab.the knowledge” so they can be their own bosses and drive a black cab.
As we learn very early on in the play, this is no small feat, in fact, I would say that it requires a huge commitment, one hell of a memory and oodles of resilience. As the play unfolds we witness this superb cast bring to life their characters, presenting them to us in a non-patronising, non-judgmental manner. As an audience, we are on a journey of self-discovery with these characters, we feel warmth towards them and will them to get their Green Badges.
The piece is very pacey, full of laughter and really well performed. The casting for the piece appears to be spot on, with each actor really bringing their character, foibles and idiosyncrasies, alive in front of us.
The highlight of the production, for me, is Mr Burgess, who is excellently performed by Steven Pacey. The character is the first character we see on stage as well as the last person. He is a constant in the production and is on stage for 95% of the piece. Mr Burgess is a wonderful character to watch. He reminded me (and my friend) of Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers and Blakey from on the Busses. Steven delivers a tour-de-force of a performance that had the audience whooping and whistling for him at the curtain call. His comic timing is complete perfection, every gesture that he delivers making a huge impact and delivering one of the best onstage performances I’ve seen in a long time.
The beauty of this production is that we are transported back to the 70s, the costume, the music, the set, the cultural references all working in harmony behind the scenes so we can really hone in on our characters and their stories.
As I mentioned the full cast, ten actors in total, work really well together, there appears a great chemistry on stage and each character is given their time to shine on stage, which is lovely to watch.
The casting of the “couples” is great, very well matched performers. I particularly LOVED Val (Jenna Aguen) and Ted (Ben Caplan) our Jewish couple, their on-stage relationship was particularly tight, and again their execution brilliant.
I would highly recommend this piece, even if you have no interest in Black Cabs, the Knowledge or 1970s politics. It is a perfect character piece, hugely enjoyable and really showcases some of the UK’s emerging and established stage talent.
I would actually go and see this piece again, (and I rarely say that)
Review by Faye Stockley
Acclaimed actress and writer Maureen Lipman directs this world stage premiere. Set against the backdrop of the harsh economic times of 1979, The Knowledge is based on the iconic 1979 TV film comedy, written by Jack Rosenthal, and follows the hilarious struggles of four Londoners as they attempt to better themselves by attempting the fearsome ‘Knowledge’ – the process of becoming a London black cab taxi driver.
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL