Theatre Review: Knock Knock by Niv Petel

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As a liaison officer for the army, Ilana, a single mother, supports families who’ve lost their sons and daughters to the wars. At times, she has to knock the same door twice… The heavy feeling of loss is mixed with her very personal relief. Her son Elad is the only child in the family, which means he will be spared from combat duties and, hopefully, no one will knock her own door.

But when things don’t go quite as planned, Ilana faces a life-changing dilemma.

Petel, it seems, has mastered the one-man genre. In his one-man play debut in Snowball – written by Roy Rashkas – Niv Petel portrayed whooping 15 characters. The play won him a Best Actor in Theatre for Youth and Children in 2014 in Israel. The Knock Knock, Petel told Ikon London Magazine, is the product of his final work for Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. During his MA studies in Performance course Niv, having a knack for one-man plays, started piecing Knock Knock together. His own family and life in Israel informed Niv on his creative journey. This fact is probably largely responsible for the play being so easy to relate to; so simple yet poignant.

Speaking of how the story came alive, actor-turned-director admits that he didn’t create Knock Knock all by himself: “My friend and colleague, the actor & dramaturge, Maia Levy, accompanied the creative process from its very beginning, and contributed to ideas’ development, editing and directing of the play.” He continued, “the main character of Knock Knock, Ilana Cohen, initially emerged from a random private joke between me and Maia on the phone. Maia was dating a guy named Elad. It didn’t go well… and I mocked her on the phone by pretending to be Elad’s mother.”

“And so, every time we spoke on the phone, I would improvise a little monologue of this mother… in time, these monologues have accumulated into a whole and vivid life story of a character, worthy of being developed into a play.”

Niv Petel virtuously utilises his limited set of props – consisting of a table, chair, towel, clothes basket and a phone – to tell a compelling story of a mother-son relationship in Israel where every child grows up to become a soldier, and every parent has an army uniform hidden in the attic. In this context, every simple family pleasure bears a special significance to Ilana and to those who came to witness the unfolding story.

Petel’s performance evokes deep and sincere sympathy towards the single mother trying to do her best for her only son. Switching effortlessly between laughter, tears, preoccupation, and surrealistic scenes of miming, Niv Petel leads the viewer on a journey full of joy, humanity, personal dilemmas, and sacrifice.

Runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until January 27th. Get your tickets here.

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