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The Knowledge review at Charing Cross Theatre, London – ‘a strong ensemble’

The cast of The Knowledge at Charing Cross Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of The Knowledge at Charing Cross Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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In an age before satnav and Uber, the Knowledge was everything. A unique and complex route test, it was required by anyone who wanted to drive a registered taxicab in London.

Notoriously difficult to pass, it nonetheless offered the successful graduate a job for life and, in 1979, with unemployment at an all time high, this was understandably a Holy Grail. Jack Rosenthal’s television film The Knowledge offered a light-hearted look at a group of hopefuls, struggling to hold their personal lives together, while under the constant pressure of the rigorous tests.

Simon Block’s adaptation for the stage retains much of the charm and comedy of Rosenthal’s original but it also appears reluctant to break free from its narrative constraints.

This problem is highlighted by director Maureen Lipman’s fluid, if conventional staging and a fussy, composite set design that never quite pulls together. On television, our focus is guided but on stage some of the characters feel too thinly drawn and there are a few unsatisfying conclusions.

The warmth of Rosenthal’s dialogue however is undeniable and Lipman has gathered a strong ensemble to allow the story to unfold. Alice Felgate proves a force to be reckoned with as Janet, driving Fabien Frankel’s feckless Chris to make something of himself.

Steven Pacey is gloriously eccentric as the martinet examiner Mr Burgess, but the real star here is the script. A little dated in places, perhaps but an enjoyable reminder that a rites of passage story isn’t necessarily the reserve of the young.

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An overly respectful adaptation of Jack Rosenthal's much-loved classic television film