Transferring a television drama to the stage is fraught with difficulties: location shots, establishing a back story, not to mention setting the scene. Add to this taking a work written 40-years-ago by one of London’s most highly regarded playwrights.
The producers would have to be possessed with the tenacity and a belief in their project that any aspiring student of The Knowledge needs to achieve their badge.
Producers Vaughan Williams and Stephen M. Levy have taken up the challenge and on 11th September will stage, for the first time, The Knowledge at Charing Cross Theatre. This modest venue – a Victorian music hall – has a history almost as old as The Knowledge which itself was introduced in 1851 thirteen years before the theatre’s opening.
The Knowledge was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Single TV Play. In 1995, film historian Geoff Phillips declared it “certainly the best TV play Britain has ever produced”.
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.
In an exclusive interview producer Vaughan Williams explained to CabbieBlog that by living for the past 18 years in Milner Square, adjacent to Gibson Square (the first destination in The Knowledge’s blue book), he would regularly meet Knowledge boys and girls starting their journey to gain the coveted green badge.
When asked about the problems transferring a drama, which for much of the plot, takes place on London’s roads Vaughan Williams explained:
Similarly, when I had the idea to stage the work, I watched the film a couple of times and quickly realised that the appearances are at the very heart of the show. They contain two actors, a desk and two chairs – an incredibly theatrical setup which, we believe, will work even better on stage than on film.
The play has been adapted by Simon Block whose credits include the TV drama series Home Fires which starred Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond, and with a remarkable vote of confidence, The Knowledge will be directed by Maureen Lipman who starred in the original production and is the widow of the play’s original writer Jack Rosenthal.
For the producers, some of the motivation for bringing this work to the London stage is to draw the public’s attention what might be lost if the cab trade continues its downward spiral.
One of the reasons we are doing the show is to help educate the taxi-using public about the Knowledge of London.
It’s been a long time since 1979 and most people don’t realise how demanding the process is and how much expertise drivers possess. They know that UBER is ( usually ! ) cheap, but the fragmented nature of the cab trade means that potential customers don’t necessarily appreciate the quality difference. You get what you pay for.
The Knowledge by Jack Rosenthal; adapted by Simon Block; and directed by Maureen Lipman
Runs from Monday 11th September until Saturday 11th November.
Previews from Monday 4th September
Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL
Box office: 08444 930 650
Monday to Saturday at 7.30 pm
Wednesday matinee at 2.30 pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00 pm
Premium £42.50 which includes prime stalls locations, a programme and a glass of bubbly.
A booking fee applies to phone and internet orders; no booking fee to personal callers.
The box office is open from 2 hours before curtain time on performance days.
As a token of their strong support, the producers are making an exclusive advance booking offer to the cab trade.
For bookings, made prior to the first performance on 4th September, any Green or Yellow Badge Licensed London Taxi Driver or Knowledge Boy/Girl can, for the price of a stalls seat ( £35 ) get an upgrade for themselves and their guests to a Premium Package, which will give them: A complimentary drink (glass of bubbly or bottle of Becks), a complimentary programme and access to the best available seats in the house; in addition, the Producers will waive any booking fees.
They may be asked to demonstrate eligibility by showing a badge, TfL letter or current appearance card when picking up the tickets.
To buy tickets using this offer :
Go to www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk
Choose the show
Choose your date
Enter ” belucky” as your promotion code
Then choose your seats. You can buy as many as you wish.
Many thanks for your support,
Image: As there are precious few Knowledge ‘boys or girls’ about on London’s streets nowadays I’ve used an old picture from A Raft of Apples.