Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 11th September 2017
“strikingly well observed, with a constant stream of laugh out loud moments”
Well it was a miracle I got to the Charing Cross Theatre, I live in that part of South East London & North Kent that Network Rail seems to have declared war on. Trains no longer stop at London Bridge and rarely arrive at Charing Cross at all, and this evening they decided in their wisdom to cancel my train with 5 minutes notice … So a reroute via Cannon Street and tube meant I arrived just in time for curtain up. Seated behind Maureen Lipman, whose late husband Jack Rosenthal wrote the original 1979 comedy as a TV film, I tried to calm my heavy breathing and seem as unflustered as possible as the lights dimmed!
The play focuses on three men hoping to become London black cab drivers. It follows them as they take exam after exam on street names, routes, and obscure places within the capital. This process of training is ‘The Knowledge’.
We witness the would-be cabbies progressive attempts to gain their green badge and create better opportunities for themselves and their families. Through their interactions we learn more about the people on the course and what it means to each of them to gain ‘The Knowledge’. Their home lives and varied backgrounds are slowly revealed as the stress and pressure to achieve takes its toll.
The budding taxi drivers (James Alexandrou, Ben Caplan, Fabien Frankel & Louise Callaghan) are all less daunted by learning 15,000 road names than they are by their examiner, the slightly crazed Mr Burgess, aka ‘The Vampire’ (portrayed in a wonderfully comic performance by Steven Pacey). Each of the cast were outstanding and held the audience’s attention throughout, delivering exactly the right amount of giggles and raw emotion. The supporting artists come and go adding dimension to the experience and creating memorable cameos as well as giving further insight into the background story of each wannabe driver.
The script, by Simon Block, has been expertly adapted, accentuating the original humour of Rosenthal while altering some aspects of late 1970s culture for 21st century appreciation. It is strikingly well observed (enhanced even moreso by Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s clever set) with a constant stream of laugh out loud moments and a great nostalgic soundtrack at interval!
The play moves seamlessly along keeping you wondering exactly what will happen next. You wouldn’t put money on who will gain The Knowledge in the end! A great comic evening out. Hail it while you can!
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Scott Rylander
is at The Charing Cross Theatre until 11th November