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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: 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.