Recently the Charing Cross Theatre has successfully reinvented itself as a home for innovative musical theatre. If you haven’t seen their latest show Yank, a tear jerking story of gay love in World War II, do go, it’s packed with gorgeous tunes and I highly recommend it.
However drama returns to the welcoming venue, tucked away under Charing Cross station, from Monday 4 September until Saturday 11 November, when they premiere The Knowledge by Jack Rosenthal, adapted for the stage by Simon Block and directed by much loved TV funny lady, Maureen Lipman, Rosenthal’s widow.
The Knowledge is based on a 1979 TV play which starred a young Lipman and the plot is described as follows – “Set against the backdrop of the harsh economic times of 1979, the play 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. Standing between them and the coveted Green Badge is the eccentric Mr. Burgess, the examiner. Also known as “The Vampire”, he is on an obsessive mission to maintain standards.”
The cast are: Steven Pacey as Mr. Burgess, Celine Abrahams, James Alexandrou, Jenna Augen, Louise Callaghan , Ben Caplan, Michael Chance, Alice Felgate, and Fabien Frankel
I'm particularly excited that Celine Abrahams will play Brenda. She’s a superb actress who I recently directed as Olga in Three Sisters at The Union Theatre.
This story from the 1970s will be very appealing to retired cabbies and their friends and family as well as the wider public who enjoy well written vintage comedy.
But today’s drivers of London’s iconic black taxis are struggling for survival against competition from recent rivals Uber. Once they were the untouchable kings of the road, now they’re beginning to feel obsolete and that the considerable training and expense that it takes to set yourself up in the trade could have been in vain.
At this time of crisis they may feel they’d like a more contemporary piece of theatre dramatising their issues rather than a trip down memory lane with the metre running.
Broadway and West End lore mythologises the power of taxi drivers to spread the word about hit shows to their passengers and they were often given free tickets to previews in the hope they’d recommend what they saw.
Let’s hope they remain an equally powerful influence on London’s Theatre Economy for a while yet. I hope they enjoy this play about happier times. I think we will too.