Johnny McKnight

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: A Perfect Stroke, Oran Mor

Johnny McKnight’s name dominates the boards of Scottish theatre during the festive period, writing several pantomimes each year and starring in one of his own creations. When he’s not bopping along to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, McKnight is a successful director and also one half of the duo behind Random Accomplice. Earlier this year, Random Accomplice’s Wendy Hoose met enthusiastic responses and a promise to return in September. Toss into the mix a massive Commonwealth project and McKnight’s first play for A Play, a Pie and a Pint and you’ll find that McKnight is truly in the running to be one of the busiest men in Scotland. A Perfect Stroke is a daring exploration of power and manipulation, posing the question: who is safe when events spiral out of control in a classroom environment?
Sixteen year old Tommy (Scott Reid) has an audition looming ahead and drama teacher Ms Stone (Anita Vettesse) has agreed to stay behind after school to help him prepare his Romeo monologue. When Tommy’s girlfriend Carly (Dani Heron) is thrown out of the classroom, things begin to crumble around Tommy and Ms Stone as the lines of acting and acceptable behaviour are blurred. Chaos ensues as a lively cat and mouse chase breaks out and the struggle for power truly begins.
McKnight’s writing takes the audience on a journey, swaying our sympathies from one character to the other. His script is laced with threads of comedy that flow seamlessly into a dark intensity, captivating audiences with moments of raw feelings and emotions. In a world where tricky classroom situations are depicted in terms of an aggressor and a victim, it’s almost impossible to decipher who was in the wrong: was Ms Stone’s intentions simply to help Tommy prepare for his audition? Had Tommy previously considered the nature of their private rehearsal? Was it wrong of Ms Stone to channel her inner Carly in order for Tommy to understand how he should approach the delivery of his monologue? Did Tommy misread Ms Stone’s actions? The innocence of both parties can be questioned as the characters find themselves trapped by each other and by the consequences that will face them on the other side of the closed classroom door.
The incredible Anita Vettesse delivers a powerful performance mixed with a gentle vulnerability, Scott Reid’s manipulative student gives a frightening insight into how easily an innocent action can be twisted into a life altering situation and Dani Heron’s fiery teen presents the dreaded modern day student in a flourish of one liners and bold statements.
A Perfect Stroke is a fascinating study of limitations and desires resulting in an intense and memorable hour of lunchtime theatre. Who will be victorious in this battle of wits? Find out at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 8-12 April.

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!

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit, Perth Theatre

“One rap for yes, two raps for no”
Blithe Spirit is a rapturous success!
 
With a beautiful Art Deco set and extravagant costumes Blithe Spirit is visual splendour, transporting the audience to 1940’s Perthshire where struggling writer Charles and his second wife Ruth hold a seance led by Madame Arcati – the local medium who’s not quite as in touch with the spirit world as she thinks she is. Arcati contacts Elvira, Charles’ first wife, and brings her back to haunt the house where she once lived and of course, Elvira being her twisted self, she is only too happy to cause a little havoc.
 
Having heard that the setting of this production had been relocated to Perthshire, I had my doubts. Could this show possibly meet the standard of the 1945 film version of Blithe Spiritthat I was so fond of? The moment I entered the curtainless theatre I was greeted with the gorgeous set and several cast members busying themselves on stage – in character – as they prepared for the evening’s entertainment. Any worries were immediately cast aside: this show was already a hit in my book.
 
Anita Vettesse provided a truthful, powerful and sometimes hilarious portrayal of Ruth. Suddenly, the dull character that I found forgettable in the film became the interesting and exceedingly memorable character I was rooting for as I watched the plot develop on stage. Drew Cain was an excellent Charles, the man stuck between his two wives. Again, I found myself becoming fonder of Charles as the story advanced. Sally Reid starred as the mischievous Elvira, the role that is easily the most memorable for anyone who has seen the film. Reid’s performance on occasion echoed that of Kay Hammond, the original Elvira of both stage and screen, but she also made the role her own – it’s safe to say the audience enjoyed her portrayal of Charles’ ghostly first wife. Anne Lacey provided a barrel of laughs as the hilarious yet serious Madame Arcati. From her wacky costumes to her haunting rhymes, Lacey embodied Arcati in every way. A special mention must go out to Scarlett Mack who had the audience giggling before the show even started as the goofy, clumsy and loveable maid, Edith.
 
Johnny McKnight, the director of Blithe Spirit has, along with Kenny Miller’s designs and Kevin Treacy’s lighting, created a wonderful production of the Noël Coward classic that I will cherish for many years to come.
 
I may have travelled 120 miles to see this show but the glamour, the laughter, the talent and the wonderful experience has convinced me to return to the show for its penultimate performance on the afternoon of 16th November.
 
If you live in Scotland and are looking for a fantastic night of laughter, splendour and ghostly goings on then Perth Theatre is the place to be!