The Knack (1981)

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Poster by Poster Designer

by Ann Jellicoe

Directed by Angie Shrubsole

Performances: Sat 28th February – Thurs 5th March 1981, Main Stage


Set in the London of the early '60s when it was not quite Carnaby Street and the Beatles but more jazz and bedsits, this witty and zany comedy became quite a cult on both stage and in film as expressing the essence of the era.

Three ill-matched young men share a house in Bayswater. When an innocent young girl, newly arrived in London and looking for the YMCA, wanders in, relationships and situations develop at an hilarious, complex and ludicrous pace.

The knack in question is the ability to get women ... Tolen has the knack, Colin desperately wants the knack, whilst Tom seems more concerned with bringing Tolen down to size ... and Nancy seems such a simple, straightforward young girl.




  • 'A 'sixties scorcher

'Ann Jellicoe's "The Knack" is the theatrical equivalent of a piece for jazz quartet, a series of apparent improvisations on a theme. Of course, they are not improvisations at all, but cunningly contrived explorations depending on meticulous timing and the playing off, one against another, of the four characters involved. The theme is the Don Juan complex. Tolen, possessor of what Miss Jellicoe calls 'The Knack', is the envy of shy schoolteacher, Colin. Nancy, a green teenager from the North, in search of the YWCA, is the girl on whom we are invited to watch him ply his technique. South London Theatre Centre normally open on Sunday and close on Saturday. For this month only, they opened on Saturday and closed last night. The director was Angie Shrubsole, who injected a manic vitality into what was a play of little consequence. Pacing and response were excellent, and I found the production more impressive than a professsional one I once saw with two star names. To begin with she had in Fred Ridgeway, an actor who was able to make Tom, the least important of the four characters, glow with a vivid light of his own. I recently saw Matthew Lyne in a perfectly dreary play, and expressed the hope that he would be given a better part next time. My hope was fulfilled in his playing of Colin, in his hands a character of wistful charm and altogether likeable. The opening scene between Tom and Colin was played at a cracking pace, the fragmentary dialogue flying up like sparks from a wheel. Rightly, the pace slowed down on the arrival of Tolen, a slick product of 'sixties macho as played by Jim Clyde who humourlessly listed his daily intake of food: steak, cheese and four pints of Channel Island milk. We don't go to the theatre to learn about the aphrodisiac power of proteins, but in this case the exercise was illuminating. Women are rather more aware of their own dignity these days than they were supposed to be in the play, and I would not have rated Tolen's chances very highly with most of the ladies in the audience. Anna Bird played Nancy as something more than the waiflike creature the text suggests, and her repeated cries of "rape" were delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. I thought she was asking to have her bottom spanked but no one obliged! The choreographed movements were first rate and the cast dismantled the bed and moved the furniture around like circus performers. Angie Shrubsole and her players almost persuaded me I was watching high comedy.

Donald Madgwick The Advertiser.


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