Despite a broad career as a writer and director, Johnny McKnight enjoys a singular reputation in Scotland as a creator of great-value panto adaptations which manage to be all things to all audiences.
This year’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty at the Macrobert is one of the strongest entries in his personal seasonal canon, over two hours of silliness, kitsch and jokes designed for as wide an age range as possible, all with a dramatic pathos at its heart which leaves the audience rooting for the vivid array of cartoon characters before us.
Under the direction of the Macrobert’s artistic director Julie Ellen, the core cast comprise a number of Scotland’s finer current talents. Robert Jack is Jester, both figure of fun and unknowing romantic lead, whose love for Kara Swinney’s Bonnie is unrequited.
Helen McAlpine and Gavin Wright make a gruesome double act as the evil Queenie McMeanie and her monkey-like snot creature son Leanie McMeanie, with light work made of lengthy and verbally gymnastic monologues which play on rhyming the characters’ names.
The richest comedy turns amongst a cast full of them come from Katie Barnett, whose Prince Charming is a ludicrous, thigh-slapping, mansplaining egomaniac who takes a leaf from the book of Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart, and Keith McLeish as the dame Fairy B, whose bawdy – and, as ever with McKnight’s pantos, very Scottish – humour is abetted by costume designer Alison Brown’s eye-catchingly outrageous wardrobe.
Brown’s work is a treat, a cornucopia of sweetie wrapper-bright designs, while Alan Penman’s array of new, classic and adapted songs – Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Little Mix make an appearance – and the precise singing and dancing of the young chorus combine for an unfussy but expertly staged panto experience.