Simon Block’s beautifully smooth stage adaptation of Jack Rosenthal’s 1979
television masterpiece proves a perfect time-capsule of the era, with haunting
parallels to today. Workplace changes leaving youngsters without hope, older
people trying new directions and self reliance the only means of taking back
This play claims to follow the fortunes of aspiring London Taxi
drivers from “acceptance interview” to their 30% chance of gaining the coveted
“Green Badge.” They must face manic Mr. Burgess (Steven Pacey) every 56 days,
reducing eventually to 14, until he is satisfied they have memorised over 450
“runs” in the “Blue Book” (it’s pink, but that’s life, apparently).
As ever in a Rosenthal piece, though, this is really about the remarkable
women behind the men. The ladies who provide emotional, intellectual and of
course financial support. Young Janet (Alice Felgate) championing unemployed
boy-friend Chris (Fabien Frankel). Betrayed Brenda (Celine Abrahams) partnering
wide-boy Gordon (James Alexandrou). Supportive Jewish wife Val (Jenna Augen)
hoping husband Ted (Ben Caplan) will follow the family tradition. Plus, there is
one loner - equally strong emancipated aspiring lady driver Miss Stavely (Louise
With the only limit being the speed at which information is assimilated, and
the likely minimum a year (“no chance!”) to qualify; there’s plenty of time for
stories to unfold. Like prison wives, the partners suffer more than their
men-folk, and that gives the play its power, tellingly when the couples meet and
the men indulge in a “Calling over” revision session as the women mourn their
new second place to the all-consuming dedication required to pass.
Some nifty pre-show video interviews, followed by a quick burst of “Baker
Street” (geddit?!) precede the action. Under hanging road signs, a clever
Nicolai Hart-Hansen two-tier set has the examiner’s office looming over a
waiting room, bedroom, lounge and kitchen. This allows director Maureen Lipman
to produce a (what must be an Olivier Award nominee) smooth series of
interchanges and interactions without a beat out of place or flag in the action.
Perhaps only an acclaimed comedy actor can get the best out of another actor
in such circumstances. Lipman does so for sure. Pacey’s Mr. Burgess has to be
another Olivier candidate, his mania having a point that the public are
peculiar, and cabbies need training for it from the start. He alone is worth the
Equally impressive is Felgate. Of all the characters, hers takes the most
interesting journey, with deeply moving and thought-provoking final scenes.
Boyfriend Frankel almost matches her, his own final work with an impressively
stoic and multi-layered Callaghan another prime Rosenthal ending.
If the too well-flagged conclusion of Aguen and Caplan’s story is the only
plot weakness, their performances are deep and credible to the point of
eliciting sympathetic gasps from the audience.
Abrahams and Alexandrou have less stage time, but they capture the horrible
stench of self-delusion and self-indulgence respectively, the motivations for
each revelation all too clear. Worth noting are the contributions of Gina Ruysen
as mistress Anthea and Michael Chance as an Arab Marks and Spencer fan
(authentic bags, lovely touch) and football supporter. Ensemble roles granting
both actors quality stage-stealing appearances.
Harking back to the time when British TV consisted of perfectly written
one-off (often Rosenthal, naturally) plays about ordinary British people doing
the most mundane things for the best of reasons, London must hail this gleaming
Black Taxi play. Proof positive that the Hackney Carriage driver (to give the
official title) reigns uber, and the likes of Uber remain under, forever.
The run is from Embankment Station to Charing Cross Theatre Box Office.
Forward Villiers Street, left Charing Cross Arches, left Charing Cross Theatre,
set down on box office counter, right. Buy tickets. Comply.