Oran Mor, Glasgow
7 June 2023
Written by Johnny McKnight
Directed by Jemima Levick
Songs by Novasound
Described as Glasgow's Peaky Blinders in drag, how could you not be fascinated by the 1920's gang the White Hats! True, I'd never heard of them until this week, but when Johnny McKnight decides to write a play about something, you know it's going to be worth watching.
Correction: Not a play; A musical! Be still my Scottish stagey heart.
"This wasn’t your usual bunch of butch macho razor-boys, no, the White Hat Boys did it differently. They stole, sold their bodies, bribed government officials and wealthy clients with the threat of turning them in to the police for acts of homosexuality. And they did it whilst in drag."
The title of 'Meet me at the knob' refers to a phallic shaped monument on Glasgow Green that was used as a clandestine meeting point for couples of all sexual orientations in the past.
Our musical takes place one night in a dingy Glasgow hotel room. The set excellently represents the kind of place I would not wish to spend one minute in, let alone one hour. It's seedy and dirty - and that's exactly the point! Relations between two men at the time were so immoral, so illegal, so frowned upon, they had nowhere else to go.
Fanny (Dylan Wood) and Tom Urie (Alan) have rented the room to engage in some prohibited sexual shenanigans. The first 5 minutes of this scene are extremely sexually explicit. No-one strips off to anything less than their underwear, but they still manage to shock and to make the audience squirm thanks to their brazen dialogue.
The talk turns to violence remarkably quickly and with it, the air in the room stills.
It's a testament to the quality of the writing, the direction and the actors on stage that the atmosphere in the auditorium felt so tense and threatening so quickly.
Just as I wondered how far they were going to push the action physically, a member of the White Hats gang arrives on the scene and interrupts the brutal performance (phew). Magnificent gang leader Liz (Darren Brownlie) literally leaps out of the closet in full sparkly dress, head-dress and heels. His camera f lashes as it captures evidence of the homosexual coupling and as he lays down the terms of his blackmail.
I adore Darren Brownlie; he's a phenomenal performer. Ever since I witnessed his glorious one-man performance in Crocodile Rock from the front row of a theatre this time last year, I've been a devoted fan. His brilliance shines brightly here in a superb but complex role. Liz is bold and courageous, but she's also damaged and fragile. She's fighting for a greater cause and Darren is completely convincing. Sign me up! I want to join her gang.
All three of the cast are magnificent. I actually feel honoured to have watched them perform live in such an intimate venue. I always say that we have such extraordinary talent in Scotland and you will find none finer than in the creative and performing teams of this production.
Award-winning writer Johnny McKnight pens the best pantos in Scotland, and he's the ultimate panto dame. His humour is sharp and sometimes unforgiving, and that fierceness is evident in this script.
The songs by Novasound are varied and sublime. As violent and shocking as this show is, it's also funny, and heart-breaking, joyous and brave! It's everything altogether all at once 😉 and the songs are similarly diverse.
The fortitude and talent it has taken to successfully produce a musical from the White Hats legacy is commendable. I'd imagine most other teams would've gone down the obvious route of a play. But the audience are rewarded with something special. The one hour run-time flew by and I truly hope there is life for this production after this week.
Can Johnny McKnight do for the little known White Hats what Lin-Manuel Miranda did for the barely remembered Alexander Hamilton!?
🎟️I believe all performances for this week (5-10 June at Oran Mor) have now sold-out (understandably) but you can find more details and check for returns here: https://playpiepint.com/plays/meet-me-at-the-knob/
⚠️Trigger warnings for this show: Flashing lights, implied sexual behaviour, sexual and non-sexual violence, weapons, blood and bad language.
📸 Production photos: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
🌟 A review of 'Meet me at the knob' by Johnny McKnight at A Play, A Pie and a Pint at Glasgow Oran Mor, June 2023, Scottish theatre, musical theatre, new writing 🌟
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