Knock Knock, Etcetera Theatre

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You are eighteen years old. Ready to leap from the cusp of adulthood, the world is at your fingertips and the rest of your life unfurls before you. You eagerly anticipate a heady combination of studying, partying, working, being invincible, finding your feet, falling down and picking yourself up again in those last couple of teen years.

Unless you’re Israeli. Born in a country with mandatory army service, turning eighteen means your life is put on hold for up to two years whilst you serve your country – and you might die doing so. This culture, where violence is part of everyday life and parents losing a child is a real possibility, inspires theatre maker Niv Petel’s Knock Knock. Through a solo performance from the perspective of a single mother of an only child, we see Elad grow from mewling infant to confident sergeant.

Petel’s performance is exquisitely detailed, particularly within the precision of his physicality. Though there are minimal props, his mimed actions are always immediately recognisable. Short, incongruous movement sequences break up the realistic, narration-driven scenes that make up the bulk of the story and whilst there is often an unclear connection to the text, they are a joy to watch. Though he plays a woman for most of the story, his depiction is sensitive and three-dimensional. There are moments where Petel gets a bit too close to panto, but these are rare and easily overlooked.

The linear story of a boy growing into a man is one of parenting rather than coming of age. It’s a valuable perspective, and one that is certainly unique given the story it tells. Some scenes work better than others as the person she speaks to changes – sometimes it’s Elad, sometimes an invisible friend, another time it is a video message. The transitions are always clearly marked with lighting and movement, though sound would also add another dimension to the play’s reality. The final moments are predictable and with an unrealistic timeline, but its point is devastating to consider.

Even though the stylistic disparity between the scenes and transitions creates some clunkiness, Knock Knock tells a great story from a perspective rarely considered in countries privileged enough to not have national conscription. Petel’s performance is also a privilege to watch and the piece isn’t far off being a sophisticated solo performance work.

Knock Knock runs through 6 November.

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