Tag Archives: Johnny McKnight

WHAT’S ON MAY: Low Pay? Don’t Pay! to open in Glasgow in May

‘What happens when women band together to fight the system?’

A uniquely Glaswegian take on a classic satirical play is touring to community venues and professional theatres around the city this spring.

Written by Johnny McKnight, Low Pay? Don’t Pay! follows a group of women who lose patience with low pay and rising prices before taking direct action.

The play, adapted from Italian Nobel prize winner Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! is produced by Glasgow Life and supported by Creative Scotland.

McKnight, best known for his well-loved scripts for the Tron Theatre’s hugely popular pantomimes and River City, brings this fast moving, hilarious tale to present day Glasgow.

‘Low Pay? Don’t Pay! opens on Friday 3 May at the Tron Theatre as part of Mayfesto 2019.

It tours to community venues across the city including Barmulloch Community Centre, Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre, Penilee Community Centre, and Lodging House Mission – a Glasgow based charity dedicated to providing care and support to homeless, vulnerable and socially excluded people.

Ticket prices for community venues are £5 (£3 concessions).

The play will also tour to Paisley Arts Centre, Cumbernauld Theatre, Brunton Theatre and Platform, in the East End of the City.

Councillor David McDonald, Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council and Chair of Glasgow Life, said:  “This superb new production updates the action from its original 1970s setting in Italy to Glasgow today. Low Pay? Don’t Pay! is cutting edge satire at its best with a warm and wry Glasgow attitude shining throughout.

“Through a wide reaching series of performances in community centres across the city, there will be opportunities for everyone to experience the play in a venue near them at an affordable price. We hope audiences will have a great time at the show and be inspired to keep engaging with the arts in their own communities.”

Dr Femi Folorunso, Theatre Officer, Creative Scotland commented: “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ by the late Italian dramatist, Dario Fo, is considered one of the best work of 20th century European theatre. It is a work that mirrors some of the contradictions in the struggle for individual happiness and collective social justice in our age.

“Creative Scotland is delighted to have been able to support this Glasgow adaptation, with the promise of full local trimmings added, of a work that is timeless in its message and which above all is a good piece of theatre.”

Full details of the tour can be found on glasgowlife.org.uk/arts

2 – 11 May – Tron Theatre (tron.co.uk)
17 May – Cumbernauld Theatre (cumbernauldtheatre.co.uk)
19 May – Platform (platform-online.co.uk)
25 May – Brunton Theatre (thebrunton.co.uk)
1 June – Paisley Arts Centre (renfrewshireleisure.com/whatson)

Community tour (Tickets £5/£3)

15 May   Barlanark Community Centre
16 May Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre
18 May Pollokshields Community Centre
22 May Lodging House Mission
24 May Penilee Community Centre
28 May Possilpoint Community Centre
29 May Ruchill Community Centre
30 May   Barrowfield  Community Centre
31 May Barmulloch Community Centre

REVIEW: The Snaw Queen – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.

The news that Johnny McKnight was back at the helm of the Tron panto for 2016 was met with almost universal relief. After a slight misstep last year, Scotland’s king of modern panto is back in Glasgow and The Snaw Queen marks a return to the top-class festive form that audiences have come to expect from the acclaimed Glasgow theatre.

While it may appear from the title that there’s some connection with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the reality is an eye-wateringly colourful, glitter-strewn, often incoherent romp – and it’s none the worse for that. Kristine Cagney Kringle and her toy workshop are flat-out preparing for the festive season. However, there’s a magic mirror, that if broken will plunge Weegietown into a Christmas-less eternal winter. Poor sweet Rudolph succumbs to the evil magic of the mirror and transforms into the Snaw Queen (a Marilyn Monroe look-alike in an eye-popping, diamante-strewn, flesh coloured body suit). Kristine, Elvira the Elf and Olive (the other reindeer) embark on an, at times, psychedelic journey to obtain the magic ingredients needed to reverse the spell. Throw into the mix Elvis the Elf, a giant pink bunny, a monochrome My Fair Lady-inspired number set on Glasgow’s infamous underground, an hilarious ‘disco dolly smack down’ and theatrical in-jokes about the National Theatre of Scotland’s James Plays and Broadway blockbuster Hamilton, and you may well get the impression that this isn’t your average panto – you’d be correct.

McKnight is a master of treading the fine line between zany fun for the babes and naughty humour for the grown ups and while it’s mind-bendingly confusing at times, it’s also hysterically funny. The humour never lets up and the sheer energy of the cast drives the action along at a fair lick. Traditionalists will be happy to know that the obligatory sing-along, sweetie throwing and audience harassment are all here.

It may not be the biggest pantomime in town, either in terms of size or budget, but the Tron always punches far above its weight in terms of entertainment. If its kaleidoscopic colour and surreal storytelling you’re after, all with a social conscience thrown in and belly laughs from start to end – then this will be your bag. A riot for the senses and a welcome relief from this grey old world we live in.

Runs until 7 January 2017 | Image: John Johnston

REVIEW: The Gorbals Vampire – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Above the Gothic gatehouse of one of Glasgow’s cities of the dead, the Southern Necropolis, the sky flames red from the fiery furnaces of the nearby Dixon Blazes Iron Works. Hundreds of local children, from toddlers to teens, armed with stakes and knives, storm the graveyard in search of a vampire, not the highly romanticised version of modern times, but a seven foot, iron-toothed killer of two young boys. It’s 1954, it’s Glasgow’s Gorbals and it really happened…well…

Inspired by local myths and bogey man stories, and fuelled by US horror comics, an urban legend is born – The Gorbals Vampire.

There are “two wee empty chairs” at the back of a Gorbals’ primary school class, Chinese whispers in the playground escalate into full-blown hysteria as the “creative thinking” kids debate the fate of their two school pals. Night after night until the sun goes down, the pint-sized vigilantes return to hunt their man, and only the rain and the intervention of local headmasters puts an end to the marauder’s madness.

What would have been consigned to the local archives gained worldwide media coverage and a backlash against the American horror comics that were gaining popularity in the country. This mass indignation also spawned the 1955 Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, laws still in force today.

National treasure in the making, Johnny McKnight has not only created a work filled with humour, it is also a work cleverly and subtly interwoven with a social commentary on tenement life in Glasgow in the fifties – the overcrowding, neglect and social injustice, how this section of the city was unloved and unlistened to. This was the hardest part of town, and in the eyes of the police, if they were cowering indoors frightened of a 7-foot vampire then they weren’t on the streets bothering them.

The community cast of over 50 players makes the stage throb with life against the brilliant set design of Neil Haynes and the wonderfully atmospheric lighting of Stuart Jenkins, all enhanced by Kim Beveridge’s subtle but highly effective video projections – you can almost feel the metal tang in the air from Dixon Blazes.

This is a glorious celebration of Glasgow and what it means to be Glaswegian – when the chips are down, the community pulls together as one, the city’s divisions are forgotten and the people unite in a common cause.

A real gem of a production.

REVIEW: And The Beat Goes On – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

It would seem at first glance that a play about a pair of Sonny and Cher obsessives would be the perfect excuse for a night of high camp glitz and glamour, more sequins than substance, but Stef Smith’s new work,And The Beat Goes On proves to be a much darker and more satisfying beast.

It’s 1989, somewhere in the US, behind the closed doors of their breeze block garage, ex-pat Scots Peter (Johnny McKnight) and Lily (Julie Brown) spend their evenings recreating the entire TV back catalogue of the outrageously clad singing duo, but the arrival of new neighbour Joan (Julie Wilson Nimmo), a Molly Ringwald-esque vision in Barbie pink satin, sees Peter and Lily’s fragile existence start to disintegrate.

The explanation for this eccentric behaviour, the reasons that Peter and Lily are living a life “beyond normal” is slowly unravelled in Smith’s economical 75 minute work. The greatest strength of the piece (apart from the obvious chemistry between long-term collaborators McKnight and Brown) is the establishment of a sense of tension and unease from the very first moments and the air of mystery is maintained to the end: tiny hints are dropped into the dialogue, just when we thought it was predictable the clues which led us down one path veer us off onto another.

To say any more would reveal all, but safe to say, it plays upon the thirst for works like Gone Girl and draws upon real-life events and prompts commentary on the shelf-life of what was once news-worthy, and the world in which we live where “tragedy is tedious”.

This is an intriguing and thoroughly satisfying work, an accomplished piece of writing, briskly directed and beautifully acted (save for Julie Wilson Nimmo’s American accent, which is forgivable given the character).

Don’t be fooled by the high camp publicity posters, “a little darkness didn’t do anyone any harm”, Lily declares, indeed, in the case of And The Beat Goes On, a little darkness goes a hell of a long way to restoring your faith in new writing in Scotland.

Runs until 28th March at the Tron Theatre then touring

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.the public reviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/and-the-beat-goes-on-tron-theatre-glasgow/

REVIEW: Miracle on 34 Parnie Street – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com at http://www.thepublicreviews.com/miracle-on-34-parnie-street-tron-theatre-glasgow/

There’s no denying Johnny McKnight’s theatrical credentials: writer of hits such as The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam and Wendy Hoose; director of Blithe Spirit for Perth Theatre and Carmen Redux for Scottish Opera; undisputed ‘King of Panto’ with hit after hit here at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, The Lyceum in Edinburgh and Stirling’s macrobert, to name a (very) few. This year McKnight asks us simply to believe, taking the much-loved 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street and reworking it for a Glasgow audience in Miracle on 34 Parnie Street.

Things are not quite going as smoothly as planned at Glasgow’s favourite department store T.J. Confuse: Santa has turned up to work in the grotto but to everyone’s surprise Santa isn’t a he, but a she (with a platinum beehive to rival the late Amy Winehouse). To add to the mayhem, Kristine Cagney Kringle, gloriously played by McKnight himself, is claiming to be the real deal, but the sceptics just won’t believe and Kristine finds herself in court and on a mission to restore to the masses, the real meaning of Christmas.

It’s camp, it’s kitsch and punctuated throughout by original songs from Ross Brown which range from traditional panto sing a-long to pop and R&B and it’s all dressed up in eye-popping designs from Kenny Miller.

The cast of six work their socks off, actor/choreographer Darren Brownlie particularly impresses as the up-tight, commercially focussed store manager Mr. Bellhammer as does the ever reliable Julie Wilson Nimmo in multiple roles, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell as Chantelle possesses a stunning R&B powerhouse singing voice but does less well when delivering her lines, her accent obscuring much of her dialogue. But there was never going to be any doubt who was going to be the star here: McKnight (clad in what can only be described as a Kim Kardashian/Maria Carey mash-up) has the most finely tuned comic timing and razor-sharp wit you will find on any stage anywhere. That he genuinely seems to love what he’s doing is a delight to watch.

Writer/director/star McKnight has his finger firmly on the pulse of panto, perfectly pitching each show to its target audience and this is no exception, you would be hard pressed to find a greater number of local references than this, even the title references the theatres address. The storyline is cleverly multilayered and speaks volumes about crass commercialism and of sexism – hell, this is a more stirring, rallying cry for feminism than any you could wish for. It is peppered with witty one-liners (and more than the average share of ad-libs as McKnight picks on the audience and his fellow actors foibles to hysterical effect), however, as much as this theatre is known for its more cerebral Christmas content, the line: “that’s too meta, even for The Tron” gives you some idea of the usual audience, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it maybe goes a little too over the heads of the typical tiny panto-goer, save for the fart jokes of course. That said, they were a-whooping and a-hollering at the musical numbers and booing and hissing in all the right places.

If it’s something different than the usual run of the mill fairytale with chart hits shoe-horned in that you’re looking for, then look no further than Parnie Street – head on down to the Tron and just…believe!

Runs until 4 January 2015

REVIEW: Aladdin – macrobert, Stirling

Scotland’s undisputed King of Panto, Johnny McKnight serves up the first treat of the holiday season with his disco-tastic, glitterball spangled version of Aladdin at the macrobert in Stirling.

There are afros, flares and platforms a-plenty as well as enough synthetic fabric to start a disco inferno as we boogie on down to Discotopia. Along with her two kids Wishee Washee (Robert Jack) and Aladdin (Dawn Sievewright), dear old Marge O’Reen Twankey (Andy Clark) runs the last launderette in town, the Dream Cuisine and Dry Clean, an establishment which does a natty turn in pies and bridies as well as washing and ironing.

Marge’s eldest Aladdin is in love with the campest prince in town (Martin McCormick) and as it ever was in Pantoland, the path of true love never runs smooth. In “the worst case of panto romance ever seen”, Aladdin and the blonde hair-flicking, disco-posing object of her affections encounter opposition and obstacles in the form of the Prince’s class-conscious mother (Helen McAlpine) and evil “Aunty” Lilith (a spectacularly clad and suitably menacing Julie Brown), and of course there’s the small matter of a rusty old lamp hidden in a deep dark cave.

As with the best pantomimes there’s as much here for adults as children, there are canny contemporary cultural and political references for the grown ups and the requisite number of slapstick, bum and bogie jokes for the teenies. The music too, manages to include the widest demographic, from 70’s disco and pop classics such as: “Lost in Music”, “Night Fever” and “We Built This City” albeit this time on sausage rolls not rock ‘n’ roll! through current hits: Pharrell’s “Happy” and a knock-out version of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” from Mrs. Twankey ( an hysterical Andy Clark) to the ubiquitous “Let it Go” from Frozen, which as well as being a sing-a-long favourite with the young audience, provides the perfect vehicle to highlight Dawn Sievewright’s stunning vocals.

McKnight eschews the ordinary panto fare and the writing remains clever and on-point throughout, never needing to resort to cheap smuttiness or crudity to get the laughs. There’s also an excellent take on the famous Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” sketch, whose wordplay goes down a treat with the young audience,proving that classic writing never fails to be funny.

Complementing the writing is a truly outstanding cast led by some of Scotland’s most highly regarded and accomplished theatre actors. Andy Clark as our beloved dame, deserves a medal, not only for his comedy skills but for agreeing to wear Marge O’Reen’s eye-watering ensembles, all of which seem to feature a bikini!, each entrance is accompanied by gasps and in one instance a covering of the eyes in disbelief at what we are seeing. Robert Jack (a familiar face from the much-loved Gary, Tank Commander) is a revelation, his timing and physical comedy skills are of the highest order, managing to raise laughs even when he’s not at the centre of the action. Dawn Sievewright is a fabulously feisty Aladdin and her vocals are world class. Hilarious support is provided by Helen McAlpine (The Queen/Jeanie) and Martin McCormick (Prince Jasper) – there really is not a weak link anywhere in this production.

Mention must be made of the quality of the set design by Karen Tennent and the seamless transitions between the multiple changes, which would put most larger theatres to shame.

There’s no magic carpet here: “we’ve no got the budget”, but this Aladdin is all the better for it. This truly is a Christmas cracker, it’s a witty, wonderful, disco-tastic spectacular for the whole family – the perfect start to the festive season.

Runs until 4th January 2015

Tickets available here: http://www.macrobert.org/event/aladdin/

REVIEW: News Just In – The Arches, Glasgow

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/news-just-in-the-arches-glasgow/

Writer: Johnny McKnight

Director: Johnny McKnight

In News Just In the rag-bag team at Tartan Tonight take over the Arches for an anarchic commentary on the day’s Commonwealth Games events. There’s: deluded diva news anchor Delta (Julie Brown); alarmingly tanned co-anchor, sex pest and sectarian Fergus (Jordan Young); gay weatherman in pink shorts-suit and glittery gold trainers Ross (Johnny McKnight); former Commonwealth ping-pong player Margo (Rosalind Sydney); put-upon intern Sam (Gavin Jon Wright) and programme boss Jan (Julie Wilson Nimmo).

With an ever-changing script, a different lead writer every night (this one was finished just half an hour before the show), and an energy level required that would rival most of the competitors in the Games themselves, this is an ambitious undertaking.Tonight’s script has been culled from the reactions to the much anticipated opening ceremony “not as sh** as we thought it would be” and Scotland’s gold medal winning first day, but the lion’s share of the material is the petty rivalry, personal quirks and questionable antics of the team.

The humour is at times too heavy on crudity and scatology, where it really hits the mark and where it gets the biggest laughs of the night is when it plays upon every Glasgow caricature and in-joke to great effect, there’s also an hysterical voice over from Sally Reid  and some well-judged video material which provide much of the evening’s laughs. The Commonwealth material itself is spot-on, less effective are the TV show team’s antics which frame the show, surprising, as this is the material that one would presume has had the most time spent on it.

There’s no doubting the talent and commitment of the cast and the energy levels are to be applauded, however it’s not quite hit the mark yet, hopefully as the team settles into its stride and as the days progress there will be more fertile fodder.

REVIEW: The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam

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This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer: Johnny McKnight

Director: Johnny McKnight

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

Fifteen year old Sam McTannan has a superpower, the ability to make himself invisible: invisible to the cool kids at school, invisible to his teachers and invisible to the girl of his dreams. It’s a superpower he’s really rather happy with, ensuring as it does a pretty quiet life. But one tragic day all that changes when Sam’s beloved parents Chip the Grip and Sheila the Feeler, are killed in a car crash. Sam’s superpowers desert him, placing him firmly centre stage, where he has to deflect the attention of well-meaning teachers, his nemesis Uncle Herbie and the horrific school bully Chunk, boyfriend of his teenage crush Violet.

The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, this heart-breaking, thought-provoking and ultimately life-affirming play comes to us from the assured pen of Johnny McKnight and manages the difficult feat of being genuinely laugh out loud funny and deeply moving in equal measure. It has emotional pull from the very first scene, grabbing you and tugging at your heart strings, pulling you this way and that, throughout the whole 80 minute roller-coaster ride.

To his great credit McKnight never shies away from confronting difficult themes and his fine ear for comic dialogue and finger on the heartbeat of the shunned in society strikes a chord, not only with the high school students in the audience, but all of those who have survived their teenage years.

The actors are universally deserving of praise, Julie Brown and James Mackenzie take on multiple and diverse roles with ease, and manage the lightning quick changes with a slickness that defies belief. Particularly successful are Brown’s perfectly judged portrayal of Mrs. Timmins, the eccentric but well-meaning Home Economics teacher and Mackenzie’s hysterical turn as Sam’s best buddy Walrus. As Sam, James Young carries the weight of the dialogue on his shoulders and manages to switch between direct audience address and dramatic interaction with admirable skill. He is utterly and heartbreakingly convincing as the ill at ease teen negotiating his way through the minefield of growing up, grief and love.

The set design by Lisa Sangster deserves special mention. Through the stunning use of Jamie Macdonald’s ingenious animations and Kim Beveridge’s video design we are not only fully immersed in Sam’s world but also party to his innermost thoughts.

Innovative, emotive and unmissable, I defy you to leave the theatre without a lump in your throat. See it if you can.

Reviewed on 24 September then touring Scotland.

REVIEW: Aganeza Scrooge – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer and Director: Johnny McKnight

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★★

There’s much speculation every year at the Tron Theatre as to whether this year’s production will top the last. The annual panto is never your traditional fare: refreshingly celebrity-free with no lazy pop tunes or reliance on worn out slapstick, instead it delivers ground-breaking originality and innovation year on year.

And the pressure to deliver is great, writer-director Johnny McKnight has big shoes to fill in this Glasgow theatre, following as he does in the footsteps of writers such as: Peter Capaldi, Craig Ferguson and Forbes Masson and in Aganeza Scrooge, boy does he deliver, with non-stop laughs and a finger firmly on the pulse of his audience.

In a storyline that might just sound familiar: Christmas is in full swing, everywhere that is, except Dickensian Street, home to legendary miser and money-lender Aganeza Scrooge, “the scariest skinflint in the pantosphere”. Aganeza is, of course, visited by three legendary ghosts, those of Pantos past, present and future, in order to show her the error of her ways. This all-female take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol stays loyal to the oft-told tale but with razor sharp wit, perfect pace, a genius eye for local detail and a cast bursting at the seams with talent. It truly is a celebration of Glasgow at its best and for all its cleverness it manages to retain a genuine warmth and charm.

The cast of six show astonishing versatility, seamlessly switching between multiple characters: a Liverpudlian ghost; Wee Jimmy Krankie; Tiny, or rather Whiny Tim; 80s disco diva Frizziwig; a Sally Bowles-like Ghost of Panto Future and Cockney Bobby (S) Cratchitt, to name just a few. McKnight himself stars as the title character and his pitch perfect delivery never falters throughout: firing out line after line of dialogue that will have you laughing out loud and tears rolling from your cheeks from the first scene to the last.

The writing is sublime but credit must also go to the music from composer Ross Brown which ranges from Les Mis-like musical theatre, Disney-esque show stopper to slinky cabaret and to the simple but highly effective set and costume designs of Kenny Miller.

This is executed with such energy and originality that even the most panto-phobic among you won’t fail to be won over. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket if you can.

Runs until 5 January