Johnny Mac is no stranger to pantomime. This year, as he treads the boards of Glasgow’s King’s Theatre for the very first time, he sat down with The Reviews Hub’s Fraser MacDonald to talk about his journey to playing Muddles in Sleeping Beauty.
A Glasgow boy at heart, Johnny is chuffed to be back on home turf after another mammoth summer season at The Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, where he has played for the last eight years. Comparing his home crowd to his audiences down south, he enjoys that he can be “funny in (his) own language”. Keen to bring his own flavour to the script, ideas for an opening monologue and slapstick routine are already whirring around in his head. “If you play the prince, then you have to stick to the script…” he says, with more than a mischievous glint in his eye.
Playing the King’s Theatre is an opportunity Johnny thought he would never get the chance to do. His reverence for the venue, its history and the stars who have tread its boards, is tangible. Savouring the atmosphere, he recalls his early memories of pantomime at the venue.“I remember Gerard Kelly and Elaine C. Smith (who is making her return to the King’s panto this year after a 13-year break), being wheeled onto the stage in a pram dressed up as babies. The place erupted. Moments like that just don’t leave you”.
Outside of the panto-sphere, Mac has been starring in The Francie and Josie Show, bringing back the iconic duo created by Rikki Fulton and Jack Milroy. The show has been running for four years and has sold out theatres across Scotland, as well as gaining the approval of the wife of Francie himself, Mary Lee.
And everything about the show is iconic. “I’ve never seen a chair get a round of applause before – that just shows you how fantastic it was” says Johnny, in reference to the high Chesterfield where droll Reverend I.M. Jolly orates. He wants to keep the spirit of this era of Scottish comedy alive and does so with a passion unrivalled by any other performer on the Scottish theatre scene.
Variety plays such a huge part in all that Mac does; he beams that John Carmichael, Scots accordionist of Alexander Brothers’ fame, played at his wedding earlier this year. On the subject of Saturday night TV, he insists there is a place for both theatre and TV, and waxes lyrical of the definite revival of variety theatre. “Audiences clearly want it – that’s why people turn off the X Factor and keep buying tickets for variety shows.”
When questioned about his future ambition he lists straight drama, film, more television and a host of other ideas. When he says he’d play Peter Pan until he’s 100, he’s only half joking.
Johnny Mac wants to be remembered for the part he has played in Scots variety theatre. He has plenty of time yet to worry about his legacy. But if pantomime is where dreams come true, then Christmas has come early for Johnny Mac. His theatrical apprenticeship has taken him through a 98-show panto run on an electric hoverboard, Christmas with The Hoff and the revival of the most iconic Scottish comedy sketches of all time. Playing Glasgow’s King’s Theatre means the world to him and if the choice was his, he won’t be going anywhere else any time soon.
Sleeping Beauty opens at The King’s Theatre, Glasgow on 2 December 2017 and runs until 7 January 2018