PANTO legend Johnny McKnight is pretty sure the Tories are going to get a bashing in theatres around Scotland this Christmas.

“We’re not going to be short of jokes this year,” he told the Sunday National.

It doesn’t look like pantomimes are going to be short of audiences either despite the cost of living crisis that has hit productions in many other shows over the last year.

Ayr’s Gaiety is lining up for its best-ever sales since the theatre reopened back in 2012 for its version of Cinderella, while the King’s in Glasgow is “delighted” with sales for its production of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

Aberdeen Performing Arts said sales are “really positive” ahead of the opening of Sleeping Beauty on December 2 and Glasgow’s Tron said it is seeing “fantastic sales” for panto this year, with many performances already sold out or with very limited availability left at an earlier date than in 2022.

Panto also appears to be alive and well in the Highlands with sales “very strong” for Eden Court’s Sleeping Beauty. At Perth Theatre, Aladdin is on course to achieve record sales – even beating last year’s Jack And The Beanstalk which outsold all the theatre’s previous pantos.

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“We are so warmed by the loyalty of our audiences – both for panto and more widely – despite the cost of living crisis and the pressure we know people are feeling on their finances,” said Christopher Glasgow, chief executive of Perth Theatre and Concert Hall.

“We feel that this is in part due to the strong effort we made during the pandemic to stay connected with audiences, in addition to our refreshed approach to programming in response to the needs of our communities.”

At Edinburgh Festival Theatre, ticket sales for The Pantomime Adventures Of Peter Pan are now ahead of pre-Covid pantomime sales trends.

“It’s heartening to see that the pantomime audience in Edinburgh is back to celebrating their festive season with us in full numbers,” said a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Aladdin at Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre, where McKnight will take to the stage as Margarine McTwank, is the venue’s best-selling panto to date with more than 17,500 tickets sold so far.

Written by McKnight, it is set in the fictional town of Stirling Stella and there’s been a gender switch as it is the women who will be rescuing a male character, rather than the man saving a damsel in distress.

“That’s for loads of reasons but mainly because it’s really boring to do something we’ve seen a hundred times before on stage that doesn’t really reflect Scottish women,” said McKnight. “I don’t know any Scottish women who in an emergency look to a guy and say, ‘whit do we dae?’ “So it didn’t make a lot of sense to write it because that doesn’t feel like real life in any way. The whole point of panto is to keep updating it and keep track of modern culture.”

McKnight, who has been writing and performing in pantos since 2006, believes their enduring appeal can withstand even the cost of living crisis.

The National:

“People want a night out to forget about misery and bank balances and that’s the magic of panto,” he said. “Look at the Great Depression and the films that were popular – it was Charlie Chaplin and people like that.

“Panto offers nostalgia and a bit of comfort and I don’t think you can match laughing in a big group and the joy of 500 people shouting out ‘he’s behind you!’ “I know loads of theatres are really struggling because of the cost of living crisis and bringing audiences back out after the pandemic lockdowns, but panto is rooted in tradition and gets passed down through the generations.

“It’s for the whole family and the jokes are for the whole family. Your audience grows up with the panto and they pass it down to their family so it becomes multi-generational.”

McKnight pointed out that when money is short, people are reluctant to spend it on a show unless they know they are going to enjoy it.

“People become risk-averse but with panto, they know what they are going to get and it doesn’t matter what your budget is as there should be a panto near you that should suit your price range,” he said.

What brings McKnight back to panto every year is the audience participation.

“It’s different from every other type of theatre because it is all about the audience,” he said.

“It feels more joyful because it is interactive rather than being a space where we all sit quiet. I have done shows where we have added on 20 minutes just through adlibs and audience participation.

“That is part of the joy – every show is totally different and it all depends on the crowd and what they are up for. I love being in it because I love the anarchy.”

At the moment, McKnight and the rest of the cast are rehearsing hard for the show opening on December 1.

“By then we’ll be ready but the now we’re all just gripped by terror,” he joked. “We’re trying to learn the dance routines and words to the songs and wondering how this is ever going to happen. But it always does. If we make mistakes the audience love it anyway. Oh yes they do!”