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INTERVIEW: 10 Minutes with And The Beat Goes On’s Johnny McKnight

Horsecross Arts in Perth recently announceda new creative partnership with highly acclaimed Scottish theatre company Random Accomplice to take Olivier Award-winning writer, Stef Smith’s new play And the Beat Goes On out on tour this spring.

The chilling tale will be performed by Random Accomplice artistic directors Julie Brown and Johnny McKnight, along with Julie Wilson Nimmo. TPR Scotland’s Fraser MacDonald managed to grab the darling of Scottish theatre and the man dubbed ‘The King of Scottish Panto’, Johnny McKnight on the first day of rehearsals for the show.

You’re playing the rôle of Peter in And The Beat Goes On. Can you tell us a little more about the production?

The play actually came about from Steph Smith, the writer, who’s a mad Cher fan and she came to us (Random Accomplice) with the idea of a double act, like Sonny and Cher, who stay together longer than they ever should. It kind of grew from there to become this story of a husband and wife who the audience really don’t know why they’re still together. It was supposed to be a hilarious comedy but it’s ended up quite a dark thriller about these two people and what’s holding them together but also keeping them apart.

And are you looking forward to it?

Well we’ve literally just done the read through and I’m filled with terror! I’ve just gone ‘Oh my God, how am I gonnae dae this?!’ but that’s kind of good. It’s different as well, because I’m used to getting to do the comedic stuff; the big, camp comedy butI don’t really have that in this play. It’s much darker, so that’s a challenge in itself not to pull the usual tricks out the bag.

The promotional materials talk of a ‘dark truth’ in the piece – do you think that makes for good theatre?

That’s a good question… Hopefully! I mean, I think every piece of theatre has to have a certain degree of truth to it. There needs to be some amount of truth that the audience can identify with, but there also needs to be something thrilling, whether that’s funny or exciting, but I am hoping that’s what we’ll achieve with And The Beat Goes On.

You’re seen by many as the new ‘King’ of pantomime. How is the transition between pantomime and much more serious drama?

Hahaha, I don’t know about that… I get terrified performing, whether it’s panto or something I’ve done before or something totally new like this, but I always approach is with a sense of dread. At least that’s until I’m in front of the audience, then I turn into a show pony. The thing is, though, you can’t really think about it too much. At Christmas time, I was terrified before doing “The Savoy Centre” (a song from McKnight’s pantomime, Miracle on 34th Parnie Street, performed in an incredible 6 languages) because of the time it took me to learn the foreign language bit… and it was me that wrote it! So there’s a bit where halfway through it you go ‘I’m f*****g ragin’ at myself’ and by week two I still couldn’t get the words out, and I thought ‘Why would I write in Dutch! Why did I think Dutch would be easy to learn?!’ But I think it should always be a challenge. Whether it’s a panto or a show like this that hasn’t been done before and you don’t know if it’s going to work, but you just hope that it does and try to see what an audience will see.

So, do you find it easier with a work likeAnd The Beat Goes On, thatthere’s not the pressure of writing the script as well as performing?

Well, yes and no. I really like coming off the script, which I can do in panto because the writer can’t shout at me. So I can be live and really bond with the audience, but something like this has that fourth wall so I don’t get to know the audience are there, otherwise the play doesn’t work. But in a show like this I’m a lot more honourable to the writers words, whereas with me I’ll say ‘Nah, I don’t like that line – I’m going to change it’.

You said the play is a bit of a dark thriller. Some of your previous works, like The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, have been quite dark in tone. Have those experiences influenced your part in this production?

What’s really strange is that things like See Thru Sam are supposed to be like a comedy, but end up getting darker and darker. For example, this show was really supposed to be up beat but for some weird reason it always turns out the reverse. As soon as you say ‘I’m going to write something really dark and really serious’ it always turns out to be a comedy. Or like last year, I did a play at Oran Mor which was supposed to be a comedy about a teacher and a pupil and it just got darker and darker, but you really just need to go with it.

The Random Accomplice motto is ‘Gasp, Giggle and Greet’ where does And The Beat Goes On stand on that?

I think this would be Gasp… There’ll be a couple of Giggles in there and there possibly could be a few tears. The more we develop it, the more it’s actually turning into a sort of Film Noir and a little bit like one of those 80s thriller movies. There’s a wee dose of Fatal Attraction or Single White Female, some of those kind of films.

Are you saying there could be a Sharon Stone scene?!

[Laughs] There isn’t, thankfully, cause nobody needs to see that! I’d never be able to look Julie (Brown, McKnight’s other half in And The Beat Goes On) in the eye again! But the whole thing is a bit of a whodunit that’s kind of thrilling to do and will hopefully be thrilling for an audience… But I’m not giving too much away! For us, we want it to be an entertaining night out because that’s ultimately what theatre should always be about.

Now we have to talk panto – can you tell us about your plans this year?

Well, I’m up at themacrobertdoing The Little Mermaid this year. I’ve never done it before and I’ve just finished the first draft of it: it’s a cross between Disney, a bitPirates of the Caribbean and the original story of The Little Mermaid where she has to kill herself to keep him alive [laughs]. Hopefully it’ll be funny: I’m already excited because I’m playing two parts and because I’m playing an evil twin I can hopefully use some of my best Dynasty moves! So it should hopefully be a swashbuckling adventure, although I have no idea how we’ll do the stuff underwater. At the moment, there’s talk of roller-skates for me and a full company of 16 kids which is maybe the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard of but I’m quite up for it! The kids have so much energy as well, they really keep you on your toes!

And finally, what’s next for Random Accomplice?

It’s all funding dependent, unfortunately, but Wendy Hoose is definitely going to the (Edinburgh) Festival Fringe for a three week run. After that, we are looking at taking A Perfect Stroke out on tour and then there’s a few wee ideas in the pipeline. At the moment, it’s just Julie and I having a think – or a fight – about what we’ll take forward. This show is the first time Julie and I have acted together in about eight years but we’re terrible gigglers and there’s no room for giggling in this! So I’m slightly terrified but really looking forward to it!

And the Beat Goes On isat The Tron Theatre in Glasgow from 24 – 28 March then touring Scotland

Image: Johnny McKnight (l) and TPR Scotland’s Fraser MacDonald (r)

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The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.