McKnight in shining armour: Q&A with Panto writer and star Johnny McKnight

McKnight in Shining Armour

Q&A with the writer of our Jack and the Beer Hops Panto, Johnny McKnight

Last week we announced our very special Christmas Panto in a Box, to support the performing arts industry.

This wonderful box includes four delicious beers from us and some of our closest brewery friends, panto snacks from Tony's Chocolonely and Love Popcorn, plus our very own Panto Story Book - Jack and the Beer Hops. 

Jack and the Beer Hops is an original script, based upon the classic Jack and the Bean Stalk panto story but with a unique and topical beery twist. The mastermind behind the script is none other than Scottish panto legend Jonny McKnight.

Johnny has been on the Panto scene for 18 years, both writing and starring as Panto Dame in performances across Scotland, usually altering between The Tron Theatre, Glasgow and the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling. Having written no fewer than 19 contemporary pantomimes, he is described as the new vanguard of pantomime in the national press. Johnny also does work in television, and is currently developing several original television comedies, as well as writing on Scottish soap River City.

When we approached Johnny with our concept for a beer-themed pantomime and the cause behind it, Johnny was 110% on board from the word go and immediately had a host of ideas for us. We are beyond thrilled with the end result of Jack and the Beer Hops, which you can read if you pick up the box online! Not only that but we've gathered together some top actors to record a Zoom performance of the script which will be live at from December 12th.  We are honoured to have worked with Johnny on our very own pantomime! 

We had a quick chat with Johnny about pantomimes, his time as a writer and performer and how the pandemic has affected his industry.


Hey Johnny! What do you think it is about pantomimes that make them such a favourite with audiences?

I think audiences love that there’s a real live, and off-the-cuff elements to pantos, that in order for a good pantomime to be brilliant it needs the audience on board. They are the uncredited character, we play to their laughter and respond to them. Its what makes each so unique. There’s also a real connection because going to the panto is such a tradition for so many families, it’s passed down from generation to generation so there’s both a familiarity to it and, in another way, a chance to see the year reflected via comedy on stage.


The pantomimes you have written are often brilliant modern-day versions of traditional panto stories. Where does your inspiration come from in adapting these tales for a contemporary audience?

I think its less inspiration and more curiosity. I genuinely love the warmth and familiarity of panto: the trope characters, the corny jokes, the ‘its behind you’ etc but I also want to see what else that form can do. The world has changed a lot since panto first began but its original ethos was always to make fun of and mock, we should never lose sight of that. It was always to poke at the higher power, the privileged, the bourgeois. I want to make sure that’s always still there in spirit, that sense of subverting the normal, giving voice to those who don’t have one. Each year I want to see it move forward else it becomes a dusty old relic. I’m curious to play around with form and gender roles and audiences expectations and I think that’s what guides me each year to rethink how we tell these stories. You want it to stay fresh and fun.


This is the first time in years that you won’t be performing on stage in the festive season. How have you been adapting to the situation?

Yeah, I can’t lie it was absolutely gutting but we are in the midst of a global health crisis and, as it stands, safety is paramount. More than anything its made me realise how much I love and appreciate the act of live events, how much its needed. Whether its theatre, football matches, concerts, a trip to the cinema, going to a nightclub, its just part of our DNA, we want to be in big groups and socialising, enjoying the same cultural event. Its made me really yearn for that whole industry to start up again ASAP. I miss it so much.


As both a writer and performer of your pantos, do you have a preference? Acting or writing?! 

I don’t actually, I love both. I love the quiet and solitude of writing, of living in a different wee head space from the own reality (I can’t tell you how much of a blessing that’s been through the lockdowns). However there is something really magical about being on stage and communicating with an audience, it’s a feeling that can’t really be described, only experienced.

Given the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the performing arts sector. What do you think the future holds for our theatres and performers?

I think we’re in for really tough times ahead, already there are theatre starting to close, mass redundancies of staff. However, that said, people need entertainment. First thing we all did in lockdown was turn on Netflix, binge watch a box set – we need stories. Need to either disappear into alternative worlds or better understand our own through fiction.

I’m an optimist, I just don’t think theatre will survive, I’d like to hope it will thrive.  We just need to hold fast and know that the work we do is valued and is needed. We will bounce back stronger than ever so long as we are given appropriate support to allow us back on our feet. People want entertainment, now more than ever, and I believe when this is all over, people will want to congregate in theatres again and bury themselves in the sound of a whole auditorium laughing. Oh yes they will….


And finally, which of our panto beers are you most looking forward to trying?!

Well having played dame for the last 14 years, it has to the Mother Gose!


Grab our Panto in a Box to read Johnny's Jack and the Beer Hops beery pantomime story


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