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Maureen Lipman to direct the world stage premiere of The Knowledge at Charing Cross Theatre

Maureen Lipman. Photo by Elliott Franks.

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

MAUREEN Lipman is to direct the world stage premiere of Jack Rosenthal’s The Knowledge. Adapted for the stage by Simon Block, it runs at Charing Cross Theatre for a strictly limited 10-week season – from September 11 (previews from September 4) to November 11, 2017.

The Knowledge is based on the iconic 1979 TV film comedy in which Maureen Lipman played a leading role. She is also Jack Rosenthal’s widow.

Set against the backdrop of the harsh economic times of 1979, the play follows the hilarious struggles of four Londoners as they try 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.

Maureen Lipman said: “It is 13 years since I lost my husband, the unassuming genius Jack Rosenthal. The Knowledge is perhaps Jack’s best realised play – a hymn to the London that he came to love. It shows the years of pain, strain and sacrifice that London cabbies have to endure to acquire The Knowledge, pass the world’s toughest and most terrifying taxi examinations and earn the right to wear the Green Badge.

“38 years since The Knowledge was first screened on ITV, London’s finest cab drivers face challenges from UBER and their sat navs, bike lanes, road works and terror. But they represent the unique excellence and expertise that has made London the great city we are all so proud of and they deserve our support … because they, and we, are worth it.

“This is my 50th year in the acting business and, having acted in the original film, I was thrilled to be asked to make The Knowledge the next show I direct. Simon Block has created a wonderful stage adaptation that preserves all the best of Jack’s original writing, and I am really excited to be involved.”

The Knowledge was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Single Play. In 1995, film historian Geoff Phillips declared it “certainly the best TV play Britain has ever produced”. In 2000, the BFI voted it as one of the TV 100 – the 100 greatest television programmes, of any genre, ever screened.

Produced by Vaughan Williams and Steven M. Levy, The Knowledge will be designed by Nicolai Hart-Hansen, with costume design by Jonathan Lipman and sound design by Andrew Johnson. Casting will be announced in due course.

You might be interested to know that to qualify as a Licensed London Taxi Driver a candidate (a “Knowledge boy/girl”) must first commit to memory the Blue Book. It is not blue, but does contain 320 “runs“ or point-to-point journeys within six miles of Charing Cross. The first run is Manor House to Gibson Square. Once a candidate has passed a written exam on the runs, they then begin their Appearances: a series of one-on-one oral examinations where the examiner can ask them to “call” the shortest route between any two points “within the six”.

A point can be any public building, restaurant, cinema, theatre, shop, museum, tourist attraction, park, pub, station … the range is limited only by the fertility of the examiner’s imagination. “Kinky Boots to Leather Lane via Shoe Lane” would be a standard question type.

Regarded as the most difficult taxi exam in the world, and equivalent to any professional qualification, The Knowledge has a dropout rate of 70%. The elite few who make it take an average of four years, in which they must live, eat and breathe central London’s 25,000 streets and (they say) 100,000 points. It has been said that comparing a black cab driver with a minicab driver is like comparing a consultant surgeon with an aromatherapist who’s got a Dr Google app.

Image: Maureen Lipman. Photo by Elliott Franks.

Tickets: £35 stalls, £25 balcony and £17.50 slips. Premium seats at £42.50 are also available and include prime stalls locations, a programme and a glass of bubbly. To book, call the box office on 08444 930 650 or visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/.

Times: Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Wednesday matinee at 2.30pm; Saturday matinee at 3pm.

Yank!, a moving, war-time gay love story, continues at Charing Cross Theatre until August 19, 2017.