Knock Knock at Etcetera Theatre
The consequences of living inside a militarised nation are brought to live in Niv Petel’s one-man show, an inventive and sometimes cinematic probing of an audience’s imagination, with enough realism to justify its challenging premise.
Petel takes on the role of a mother in Israel, whom we first see barking orders through a telephone while comforting her newborn baby. The mother used to work in the army, and would go door-to-door, visiting the families of soldiers that had recently been killed in the line of duty. She still has that authoritative spirit; there is a conscious cognitive dissonance between the image of a male, muscular Petel in combat fatigues and the doting behaviour of the matriarch he plays.
It’s quite striking how he manages to metamorphose into this character by simply changing his voice and gait. She is naturally chatty, excitable when around her son; other characters we never see nor hear are brought to life through the way she engages with them. She has a friend and neighbour, but her closest relationship is with her son. She spoils him and treats him with outrageous affection, giggling at his jokes and trying to remain in his good favour; it’s an immediately convincing set-up. Yet the spectre of the military looms large – all boys must serve when they are of age – and it is in her desperate attempts to prevent him from entering a combat unit where conflict emerges.
The minimalist staging enunciates Petel’s performance, which is very good. At times it seems like an impersonation takes precedence over character; yet he doesn’t go for easy gags, and treats the imaginative conceit with the requisite sincerity. There is also a potent sense of one-sided communication, of loneliness in his character’s incessant jabberings that the son seems to take no heed of.
Perhaps less successful are a series of dream sequences that punctuate the action. These are portrayed through Petel’s performative body language and skill for imitating sound effects and music: for instance, a solider stitching up his wounds is soundtracked by a hummed folk song and various gasps of pain. But these feel like showy indulgences that do little more than state the obvious. It is in the carefully constructed, ultimately heartbreaking chronicle of a mother and child that this one-man show crafts its effective anti-war message.
Knock Knock is at Etcetera Theatre from 25th October until 6th November 2016, for further information to book visit here.