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Before Uber and satnavs, London taxi drivers had to undergo a lengthy period of learning, being tested and retested before they earned the green badge entitling them to drive the iconic black cabs.

A quick look at the relevant TFL website suggests little has changed – not only do aspiring cabbies  still have to learn hundreds of routes within a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross,  but they also need to acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge of places of interest within the area.

So although the late Jack Rosenthal’s TV film aired back in 1979, Simon Block’s new stage version (although sometimes feeling dated) still has the ring of truth about it in a production attentively directed by the former’s widow, Maureen Lipman. The focus is primarily on three new applicants who want (to a greater or lesser degree) to embark on a new career and on the wives and girlfriend who (again to a greater or lesser degree) encourage them in the long, all-consuming haul which can last years rather than months.

Forceful young factory-worker Janet (Alice Felgate) subsidises her reluctant unemployed boyfriend  Chris (these days, she’d take on the challenge herself), supportive Val is right behind hubbie Ted (Ben Caplan) as he follows family tradition, and discontented Brenda can’t really see the point of her kitchen-fitter spouse Gordon (James Alexandrou) even bothering. He, on the other hand, finds it a perfect cover up for some extra marital activity.

Overseeing the aspiring drivers is Mr Burgess – energetically played by Steven Pacey like a sadistic Monty Python escapee with a battery of peculiar tics designed to rile the rookie drivers, but with a little bit of a heart tucked away somewhere beneath the eccentric behaviour.

If, like me, you haven’t seen the TV version, you’re unlikely to miss the actual journeys through the capital – and Lipman’s likeable production ensures that it’s impossible to ignore how the mammoth task of memorising the streets of London can come to dominate every waking moment.

Charing Cross Theatre

The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2N 6NL

Until 11th November 2017

£17.50 - £35.00 (+ premium seats £42.50)

charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

 


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