Darren Brownlie

REVIEW: Miracle on 34 Parnie Street, Tron Theatre

Miracle on 34th Street is a fond Christmas favourite, the 1947 classic often ranked amongst the top Christmas films of all time with its charming tale of love, faith and imagination. Once Johnny McKnright gets his hands on it, Miracle will never be the same again. All the essential ingredients are there and mixed in with McKnight’s wit, cross-gender casting and all important audience participation to create Miracle on 34 Parnie Street, a riotous spectacle that cheerfully urges its audience to believe.

Leading department store TJ Confuse are preparing for Christmas and in need of a Santa but when Kristine Cagney Kringle arrives claiming to be the real Santa the store’s staff are surprised by the suggestion that Santa Claus could, in fact, be a woman. This marks the beginning of a series of moments challenging gender norms in the show; a serious tone beyond the fun and games.

Happily stepping into the shoes of the lady Santa is McKnight himself: cheeky, seductive and sexually available after Emmerdale every night. The best laughs are provided by McKnight and Julie Wilson Nimmo (who seems to be loving every minute on stage as the arm-swaying Doris Hawker) as they wander from the script into hilarious ad-libs. Darren Brownlie’s baddie Mr Bellhammer has the pleasure of duetting with himself thanks to a life sized screen where long serving Tron panto member Sally Reid briefly pops up as Bellhammer’s fellow conspirator Mrs Big Bad Wolf.

McKnight’s script reaches levels of genius with his tongue twisting dialogue and fast paced exchanges of razor sharp wit. He’s on top of his panto-writing game, treating Glasgow to a show of boisterous excitement and superb humour.

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REVIEW: Whisky Galore, Citizens Theatre

In a world heavily reliant on CGI and blockbuster special effects, Whisky Galore is a welcome reminder of the somewhat more simplistic methods of production in radio dramas. Its a laugh-a-minute show: a thrill to watch and a fascinating insight to the conventions of sound effects and their contribution towards the success of radio productions.

Set in an art deco BBC Radio Studio, we are introduced to three frightfully polite actors and their long-suffering studio manager. A range of obscure props are set around the studio; their use throughout the show to recreate a series of everyday sounds is simply ingenious. As Colin Sutherland’s studio manager dashes between props creating sounds of rain, waves, animals, social events and much more, the actors must tackle thirty roles within the radio production and cope with the demands of being live on air, of constantly switching roles and the implications of some ill-timed sound effects.

The radio show itself is the story of Little and Great Todday, two Highland islands suffering from war rations and a distinct lack of whisky. This is quickly solved, however, when a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases of whisky finds itself run aground not too far from the thirsty Todday citizens. The show’s audience becomes the Radio Studio’s audience, encouraged by the use of placards to get involved with the provision of those all important sound effects.

The fluidity of the piece is a testament to the performers involved, the superb Darren Brownlie’s flamboyant Findlay Easton-Crane producing roars of laughter from the audience by a mere flick of the hair, raise of the eyebrow or occasional highland fling. Helen McAlpine is impressive in a string of diverse roles whilst Barrie Hunter, too, is in fine form as the moustache proud Garth Helmock.

It truly is giggles galore in this joyous production. Attending radio performances is a social event of days gone by but Whisky Galore proves that this form of entertainment is still a fantastically enthralling night of laughter that you won’t want to forget in a hurry.

REVIEW: Dance Derby, Paisley Town Hall

Telling the bitter tale of the Depression’s gruelling dance marathons, Dance Derby packs a mighty punch. Thought-provoking theatre at its best, Company Chordelia’s latest show embraces the cruel audience pleasure of reality shows through its exploration of a six week dance marathon.

The rules, as established by MC Hal Johnson (played by Harry Ward), are simple. The contestants must always remain dancing.They will be rewarded with a 10 minute break every two hours but must continue to dance whilst eating, shaving or even brushing their teeth. As the hours roll by to the ever incomprehensible 600 hours… 800 hours… 1024 hours of constant dance, Ward’s cheerful MC delights in the suffering of the desperate contestants, his treatment of the marathon as a piece of entertainment is horrifying to watch for both the audience and Nadine Livingston’s soprano who grows more and more uncomfortable in her central position, her gestures of sympathy to the exhausted dancers are heartfelt yet powerless.

Throughout the piece, each couple are given a moment in the spotlight to showcase their talents. We are briefly introduced to expectant parents Mary and Eugene (Kally Lloyd-Jones and Vince Virr), experienced dancers Molly and Allan (Katie Armstong and Peter Baldwin), paired together for the purpose of the marathon Eleanor and Joe (Tara Hodgson and Brian Bremner), married couple Muriel-Jane and Arlen (Steinvor Palsson and Michael Sherin) and orphaned siblings Rose and Bill (Beverly Grant and Darren Brownlie). Their spotlight performances, scattered between rounds of eliminations and races, drive the narrative of the piece, developing each couple’s story and their motivation for the coveted final prize of $1000, the fated prize always looming above them in the form of an eye-catching, glittering sign lest the contestants consider admitting defeat.

Accompanied by a selection of distinctive dance numbers from the 1930s, composers ranging from Irving Berlin, Al Dubin and Rodgers & Hart to Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, the show maintains its intensity till the end; the final scene a particularly powerful moment of bitter triumph as the winning couple quietly embrace their success, the runners up collapsing in distress as the cheerful ‘We’re in the Money’ plays out behind them. The characters’ struggles are heartbreaking to watch, the inevitable collapses and implications still shocking and raw.

Unique in many ways, Dance Derby is a fascinating piece of theatre that is often poignant and distressing. Presented with an incredible flair, the piece’s modern day relevance fuels its powerful impact that leaves audiences questioning their values of entertainment and the cooperation of genuine struggle and cruelty in this entertainment.

REVIEW: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre

Fresh from the success of their production of Blithe Spirit in Perth, Johnny McKnight and Kenny Miller front the creative team behind this year’s Tron theatre pantomime: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell; a show of fun, fairies and flatulence.
 
Peter Panto is a boy from Riverland. One evening he accidentally loses his shadow. He later returns to the Darling’s household, with his best friend Stinkerbell in tow, to collect his shadow and is helped by Wendy, the eldest of the Darling’s three darlings. He soon convinces Wendy to travel to Riverland where we meet his long time enemy Captain New Look and her (yes, her) sidekick Chai Thai. In true panto style, mayhem follows. There’s poison, knives and looks that could kill all night long, providing a night of laughter and great entertainment.
 
Johnny McKnight has written yet another panto that’s brimming with local humour, a fantastic set of songs and a wonderful cast. The script includes playful references to the King’s Theatre, Karen Dunbar and even Janette Krankie. Of course, panto lovers can expect the traditional aspects of pantomime such as cast members playing multiple roles, an altered plot line to suit the location of the show (who knew pirates hung out at the Blue Lagoon?) and, of course, audience participation. Not only has McKnight included all of the familiar traits of panto, he has created a modern show that appeals to all age ranges. Ross Brown has written an all-new set of songs for Peter Panto, all of which are catchy and show off the abilities of those on stage.
Peter Panto marks the return of several Tron panto veterans: Darren Brownlie, Sally Reid, Anita Vettesse and Helen McAlpine and, of course, there are also some new faces in the form of Louise McCarthy and Laura Szalecki. Together they form a very strong cast that are oozing with talent.
 
Reid gives a wonderful performance as Stinkerbell, Peter’s loving sidekick who can never quite admit her true feelings. She engages well with the audience, instantly pulling us into the show and getting lots of laughs for her elaborate descriptions of the flatulence that makes her so proud.  McAlpine is Peter Panto, the boy who never grows up. She possesses an attractive singing voice although it must be admitted that her enthusiastic shouts to the audience may have been a tad too loud from time to time. With this small issue aside, McAlpine delves into the role of Peter and gives it all she’s got. She also briefly plays the unenthusiastic Nana in act one, the Darling’s small and furry maid and babysitter who truly believes she’s seen better times in her career. Tron newcomer McCarthy provides a hilarious “West End” Wendy and fits in perfectly amongst her cast mates, her accent gaining more and more laughs as the night advanced. This ballet loving Wendy is full of energy and also brings a very sweet singing voice to the show. Brownlie, the only male in this cast, briefly plays Mr Darling and then, once we have been transported to Riverland, he becomes the hilarious and down to earth Chai Thai who provides plenty of one liners and Glaswegian slang. Not only a great performer, Brownlie is the choreographer for the show and stands out during many dance routines, dancing in heels with ease as he blends into the almost all female cast. The performance of the night was from Anita Vettesse who shines equally bright as Mrs Darling and Captain New Look. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Tron panto is that the villainous role of Captain Hook we are all familiar with has been transformed and glamorised into a female role that Vettesse thrives in. Both her speaking and singing voices are strong and unique; Vettesse is instantly likable. It’s unusual to see a villain get such a large cheer at the curtain call and this actress certainly deserves all the praise she receives.
       
Grab your tickets, some wings and your eye patch whilst you still can – I predict a sell out show!