Review: Knock Knock ★★★★ - A beautifully nuanced account of a devastating situation

knock-knock-ectetera-theatre-niv-petel-writer-and-performer-credit-chris-gardner-6 Clad simply in a white top and khaki trousers, to which he adds such details as a white apron, Petel bowls a blinder by playing the mother of his young conscript. He stacks the emotional stakes high – she's a single mother and an army therapist, trained to tell bereaved parents the worst, to make that dreaded knock on the door, and to work with them through the grief and loss that will form part of the rest of their lives. For most of the show Petel talks intimately and affectionately to his son. The account of their intense relationship is beautifully paced, starting with Ilad as a babe in arms and then as a toddler; at kindergarten, then junior school; as stroppy teenager and, inevitably, at 18 preparing for the draft.

Petel’s is a beautifully nuanced physical performance that takes the audience with him through the whole of what we know is to be a tragically short life. There's a moment of hope when we discover that as an only child, he can opt out of active service; we live with his mother through the nail-biting agony of trying to dissuade her son from choosing service to prove himself. But mothers must let go if children are to grow up at all.

With the aid of designer Rhiannon White the show is made up of an extraordinarily simple set and minimal, versatile props to set off the physical and vocal skill and simplicity with which Petel tells his story. White lives up to her name, for everything on stage is stark and clinical: a table, chair, telephone and the towel that Petel winds first into baby Ilad and then almost everything else needed to tell his tale. Under lighting designer Oliver Bush’s equally stark white light, the feel is of a waiting room, a surgery or a morgue – perhaps a waiting room in the afterlife even. The only other colour is the khaki of those trousers, suggesting that Petel is Ilad, as well as his mother, which is a touching duality. Overall, Knock Knock is an engaging and important contribution to our understanding of life in Israel.

By Judi Herman

Knock Knock runs until Sunday 6 November, 7.30pm, £8-£10, at Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High St, NW1 7BU; 020 7482 4857.

Listen to Niv Petel talking about Knock Knock on JR OutLoud