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Johnny McKnight - A Superheroic Life

There's something heroic about Johnny McKnight. The writer, director, 
performer and co-founder of Random Accomplice productions appears to be 
everywhere just now, so ubiquitous are his theatrical wares. With 
Random Accomplice, he and fellow director Julie Brown have just opened 
their sixteenth production, The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, 
which is written and directed by McKnight, and currently running at the 
Tron Theatre in Glasgow prior to a Scottish tour.

Beyond Random Accomplice, as a director, McKnight is currently at work 
on a rehearsed reading of All The Promise, a new play by Colin Bell 
performed as part of Glasgay!, as well as workshops with the National 
Theatre of Scotland on Sponsored Silence, a new piece by Douglas 
Maxwell. As a writer, McKnight is about to have an even higher profile.

In October,his first radio play, Beloved, is set to be recorded. 
Onstage, McKnight has two new projects with Scottish opera in the 
pipeline. The Curse of the Maccabra Opera House is a young people's 
piece with music by regular Random Accomplice collaborator and composer 
for The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, Alan Penman. Last One 
Out is an even more ambitious site-specific project with composer 
Gareth Williams, and set to take place in Fraserburgh Lighthouse as 
part of the forthcoming Sound festival.

More familiar territory for long-term McKnight watchers will be a very 
busy festive season, when McKnight will be present in no less than 
three shows. At the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling, Brown will 
direct a new production of McKnight's take on Cinderella, which was the 
first pantomime he ever wrote. At the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, 
McKnight will premiere a new musical play of the same story, while at 
the Tron in Glasgow, he will write, direct and play the title role in 
Aganeeza Scrooge, a new, female-based version of the Charles Dickens 
classic.

“It's all dead exciting,” McKnight gushes, “and has pushed me out of my 
comfort zone. I would hate it if people felt I was just bashing out the 
same thing all the time. It would be easy to do the same panto or bash 
out Little Johnny's Big Gay Something every couple of years,” he says, 
referring to the trilogy of plays he wrote for Random Accomplice, which 
began with Little Johnny's Big Gay Adventure, “but I don't want to do 
that. I love it when I sit down and I don't know what I'm doing.

“It's like with Room 7,” McKnight says of his short contribution to the 
Traverse's Dream Plays season during this year's Edinburgh Festival 
Fringe. “That started off being about terrorism, but then I realised 
there was a hundred people who could do it better, so then I asked 
myself if I could write something that was a kind of sci-fi thriller, 
to see where that would go. I kind of like setting myself a problem and 
then try and solve it.”

While variety has been the spice of McKnight's working life, one thing 
that does join the dots between his campier outings and more seriously 
minded work such as The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam is a 
fusion of popular culture with a form of heightened realism. The roots 
of this may well date back to his school playground in Ardrossan.

“All the boys played at football,” he says, “while I played with the 
lassies at Prisoner Cell Block H, so that was a bit of a pointer. All 
the things I watched on TV were larger than life, because they offered 
something more glamorous than Ardrossan. So with everything I've done, 
I don't think anybody could describe me as the king of naturalism.”


Somewhat surprisingly, McKnight started out training to be a lawyer. 
Equally unsurprisingly, it was a brush with the law that didn't last 
long.

“If I'd kept up with being a lawyer I would have been the most 
ridiculous one around. I only went into law because I thought it'd be 
like Ally McBeal, with dancing babies and everything, but it wasn't.”

Advice from a university lecturer saw McKnight join the first year of 
RSAMD's Contemporary Theatre Practice course. It was here he met Brown, 
also learning the mechanics of devising and producing his own work. 
Where many CTP graduates joined the live art circuit revolving around 
the Arches, McKnight and Brown founded Random Accomplice.

“We'd both just graduated,” McKnight remembers, “and I thought that the 
only parts I'd get given would be either a hairdresser or someone's 
camp pal. We both had a lot of admin experience, so we thought that 
instead of waiting around for someone to tell us what to do, let's do 
it ourselves.”

A decade on, and the gamble has quietly paid off, with both Brown and 
McKnight major players. Again, the versatility of the company has 
helped their profile enormously.

“I think I do it deliberately,” McKnight muses. “I would hate to be a 
full-time actor, and I couldn't be, because I can only do one part. I 
couldn't be a full-time writer either, because I couldn't stand the 
solitude. I love playing with my pals in the rehearsal room, but I 
don't want to be dad all the time. I want to be a kid sometimes as 
well.”

While McKnight expresses a long-term desire to do a full-scale musical, 
beyond his current spate of activity, he declares himself to be in full 
possession of “a big calendar of nothing.”

Despite such affirmations, he and Brown have Random Accomplice's tenth 
anniversary in 2013 to think about. McKnight isn't sure what they'll do 
yet, but is toying with the idea of doing something that's different 
again from See Thru Sam.

“It's about a pair of Sonny and Cher impersonators who split up,” he 
says. “I don't know, though, because I might be the worst Sonny Bono 
impersonator ever. I think I'd make a better Cher, but I don't think 
Julie would like that very much.”

The Incredible Adventures of  See Thru Sam, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 
September 20th-29th, then tours
www.randomaccomplice.com
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, September 25th 2012

ends

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