It’s 54 years since the last conscripted British citizens returned to civilian life after completing their National Service. If a generation is 25 years, then that’s at more than two generations who have never faced the prospect of having to—between the ages of 17 and 21—serve in the British Armed Forces for two years. Whether or not you wanted to. Conscription, however, remains in place in many countries around the world, including Israel.
A succinctly told story exploring an issue that will resonate with any parent.
Niv Petel’s acclaimed one-man show asks some simple questions with serious ramifications: how to raise a child if you know that, one day, their turn will come to hold a rifle? What’s it like to grow up in a society where you’re destined to be a soldier from the day you’re born? If theatre is about showing us other worlds in an empathic way, then Knock Knock is a valuable eye-opener, albeit not so much the experiences of the young, but for their parents who are left back home to wait for them to return. Alive, or not.
Petel focuses on single mother Ilana and a period of around 20 years in which her only son Elad grows from giggling baby to weight-training young man determined to serve in a combat unit like his best friend. All mothers worry about their children, of course, but Ilana has particular cause; she worked as an Army liaison officer supporting parents and families who had lost sons and daughters in war. She knows what the death of a child does to them. Her greatest fear is of another liaison officer knocking on her door, to talk about her son’s death.
Although we only ever hear one side of Ilana’s conversations, Petel’s tight writing ensures we can readily imagine Elad and their neighbours, while Petel’s assured performance—dressed in nondescript white t-shirt, combat trousers and army boots—enables Ilana’s generally optimistic character to easily come through. This is all the more startling during the brief gaps between scenes, when the passage of time is underscored by Petel’s remarkably mechanistic movements and sounds; the physical transformation of his appearance, through his changing body and facial expressions, is genuinely startling, and only goes to underscore the subtleties with which he plays Ilana.
Rhiannon White’s costume and set—a plain white table, a chair and basket— are a perfect blank canvas through which Petel is able to draw us into Ilana’s story, and the life-changing dilemma she ultimately faces in deciding whether or not to let her adult son put himself in potential danger. Whatever your thoughts on her final decision, this remains a succinctly told story exploring an issue that will resonate with any parent.