Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 11 November 2017
Jack Rosenthal’s play celebrating the industry of the black cab and its drivers has its own charm about it but feels slight in plot. Before Uber came along, black cabs were the key means of transport for Londoners to zoom around the capital – but when stepping into one of the taxis how many of us actually gave a thought to how extensive the knowledge that those driving them have?
In Rosenthal’s light hearted and entertaining play, we are taken into the lives of those taking part in The Knowledge to become black cab drivers – including all the stress and the increasing pressure to remember all the street names and different routes.
Taking place over the course of two years, eight months and one week, the audiences follow Gordon, Ted, Chris and Miss Staveley as they attempt to overcome a number of obstacles put to them by the intimidating ‘vampire’ Burgess to be able to drive one of London’s iconic black cabs.
It isn’t perhaps the strongest of plot lines that offers much excitement, but what it does do is highlight the hard work and dedication it takes to become a cab driver- even perhaps in this age of the sat nav. Maureen Lipman’s production celebrates this by making it clear the increasing pressure on relationships and the characters that bubbles away throughout.
Lipman also makes the most of the humour within the script, although some of the jokes fall slightly flat due to the out of date nature of them – particularly with regards to the attitudes towards women that come through in Gordon’s character that can make it feel slightly sleazy in places. But there are some genuinely funny moments that are really sparked by characters such as Burgess and Ted.
The production could use with a bit more energy and pace about it, as the story can become slightly stuck in a rut towards the interval when it seems like none of the characters are getting very far in The Knowledge, making the audience feel as frustrated as the characters are at that point.
But things are livened up by the cast, including Steven Pacey as the contradictory and sadistic Burgess – offering reassurance and advice while also being brutally honest and tough on the candidates. Ben Caplan is warmly entertaining as Ted who is destined to be a cab driver, Fabian Fankel offers a lovely performance as Chris – who lacks confidence but begins to bloom by the end, while James Alexandrou offers a stereotypical cocky and arrogant Gordon.
The men are equally matched by the women including a brilliantly feisty but supportive performance from Alice Felgate as Janet and sharply delivered performance from Louise Callagnan as Miss Staveley trying to make it in a man’s world.
Part of the problem with Lipman’s production is the way in which the scenes don’t quite flow with as much ease as they could given the fact the stage is divided into three sections thanks to Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s creative use of the space in the set design. For example as one scene is going on, it is made clear that it is about to end, when other characters come on stage – slightly diverting the audience’s attention from the dialogue happening elsewhere.
But overall, The Knowledge is a lighthearted and entertaining production that helps audiences discover a new found respect for black cab drivers in London as well as the wit of Jack Rosenthal’s writing.