IF THEY had sweepstakes about the season’s most promising pantos, the smart money would be on Johnny McKnight.
For one thing, backing the multi-talented entertainer is a good way of spreading your bets. In Stirling, he is writing, directing and starring in Beauty and the Beast, a traditional romp that promises to be “part Grease, part Downton Abbey”, while in Glasgow, he is the author of Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, the latest in a long line of wittily subversive pantos at the Tron that dates back to the days of Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming and beyond.
Sitting in the director’s chair is Kenny Miller, who was the designer of McKnight’s Aganeza Scrooge last year and several Tron pantos before.
He’s been having a whale of a time. “It is hard work but if you have the right cast, then it is good fun,” he says. “And I’ve got a great cast.”
He certainly has. As well as the quick-witted Sally Reid and Anita Vettesse (recent stars of McKnight’s production of Blithe Spirit at Perth Theatre, another Miller design), there’s the talented Helen McAlpine and Darren Brownlie, two more Tron panto veterans.There’s also an all-new set of songs by Ross Brown. “You can’t help but have fun when you’ve got a line-up like that,” says Miller.
“And also, it’s a Johnny McKnight script and they are just genius fun. It’s brilliant ending the year off with something as mad as this. It’s so nice to go into a rehearsal room and laugh every day.”
One of the pleasures of the Tron panto is its small-scale intimacy and hand-knitted charm. The cast have to work hard and the audience have to use their imaginations: don’t expect to see too much magical flying in this Peter Pan. It also gives the team a chance to upturn a few preconceptions. With Vettesse playing Captain Hook – rechristened Captain New Look – this is a panto with a feminist agenda.
“It’s interesting to be able to work in the rehearsal room with a lot of women – and really talented women at that,” says Miller.
“Having a woman playing Captain Hook brings a different energy to it. By mixing those things that you normally get in pantomime – Dandini being played by a woman – and putting it into such a strong character as Captain Hook, it completely alters the energy of the story.”
• Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 4 January; Beauty And The Beast, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, until 5 January.