Review: Knock Knock at RADA Festival

Now in its seventh year, the annual RADA Festival brings together past graduates and a network of theatre-makers from different backgrounds in a ten-day celebration of new writing, emerging talent and the possibilities of theatre today. Key among the aims of the festival is to ensure that theatre is open to all; in line with this objective, tickets start at £5 and the three headline shows each place a strong emphasis on accessibility.

For Hot Coals Theatre, this is nothing new: since 2008 the company has specialised in work that’s fully accessible to d/Deaf and hearing audiences, and their latest show Knock Knock is also designed to be accessible to all ages. highly visual performance style, combining comedy, clowning and physical theatre, removes any need for spoken word or sign language while still ensuring the story and its message are easy to understand.

Photo credit: Hot Coals Theatre

Modern fairy tale Knock Knock tells the story of a woodcutter whose solitary existence is interrupted when a woman he’s never met before knocks at his door. It’s love at first sight, but when they both succumb to the pressure to live up to “traditional” gender roles, the happiness of their perfect union is threatened. Can they see past what’s expected of them and live the way they want to, or is their relationship doomed?

It’s impossible not to be charmed by the story’s loveable characters, who are brought beautifully to life by Hot Coals founders Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English. Spoken word proves to be unnecessary as the two communicate their thoughts and emotions through movement and facial expressions (Sargeant’s twinkly eyes above her bushy beard are a particular highlight). We share all their joy and heartbreak, and also enjoy some moments of cheeky humour that lift the characters out of the two-dimensional fairy tale world and make them real, imperfect human beings we can relate to.

A meticulously observed set also aids the storytelling, dividing the stage in two so the characters can move easily between their cosy living room and the mysterious, magical woods just outside their door. The structure of the show is based around the establishment of patterns; the opening sequence takes turns to introduce the two characters in their individual routines, while the second half of the story shows how their domestic activities change little by little as each day passes. Visually this works very successfully to demonstrate the gradual transition in their lives – we can see the way things are going long before they do – although the musical soundtrack does start to become a bit overbearing by the third or fourth repetition.

Photo credit: Hot Coals Theatre

Sweet, funny and with a powerful and very topical message for audiences of all ages, Knock Knock packs a surprising emotional punch. Within minutes, I was completely caught up in the story and rooting for the characters to resist the stifling social expectations that stand in the way of their happy ever after, both as a couple and as individuals. All in all, it’s a very worthy headliner for the RADA festival, and hopefully a show with a great future.

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