The Man Who Knows It All
A Theater Artemis/Maas Theater co-production
Reviewed at Unicorn Theatre
For ages 4-10
There are a few questions I’d like answered at the moment, ranging from whether bees actually even have knees, to how the Conservatives intend to pay for their manifesto policies. The audience of Theater Artemis and Maas Theater’s co-production are invited to submit their inquiries to The Man Who Knows It All, but it quickly becomes clear that this supposed know-it-all knows very little. European children’s theatre seems often to be braver, weirder, more challenging and more experimental than what’s routinely on offer here in Blighty (take, for instance, Het Filiaal’s Falling Dreams, seen in Edinburgh last week); this subversive play about challenging authority from two Dutch theatre companies is no different.
The Man (Rene van’t Hof) resembles a televangelist or motivational speaker, performing in an outdated conference room complete with grey carpet tiles and curtained walls. He struggles to get through lists of categories – colours, numbers, types of weather – despite the progressively outlandish attempts to help him by his musician (Keimpe de Jong) and stage manager (Tjebbe Roelofs). The Man Who Knows It All is like a surreal take on The Wizard of Oz, with shiny-suited Hof the supposedly great and powerful wizard asking us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, an increasingly difficult task as his stage manager goes to extraordinary lengths to offer assistance, ultimately showing far greater competence and capability.
The audience are dutifully polite at first, but eventually enough is enough: the play collapses into near-anarchy as they start to stick it to the Man. Hof excels at ignoring the audience’s very loud objections – with their vocal corrections and his expert clowning, it becomes a cerebral, protracted variant on the pantomime favourite, ‘It’s behind you!’ As riled up as the audience become at the audacity of this great pretender, their outrage is more than equaled by their laughter – the Man’s flamboyant failures, from trying to stand in a spotlight that won’t stay still, to his inability to hold both a cup of water and a conversation at the same time, are very, very funny.
The Man Who Knows It All is particularly appropriate viewing in the run-up to the general election, exposing and critiquing those who claim authority and expertise whilst at the same time avoiding and evading questions (though at least The Man Who Knows It All turned up). Though these audiences are too young to vote on June 8th, it’s encouraging to see that they don’t take much time at all to stand up for what’s right.
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