Beating McEnroe

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27/03/15

The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

We enter the theatre to find a bearded man dressed in a tennis headband and a towelling bathrobe. He’s sitting cross-legged on the floor silently contemplating a pile of tennis balls. As the crowd continues to shuffle to their seats, he starts to throw the balls to people and urges them to throw them back. Then, once everyone is assembled, he gets us all to chant some kind of repetitive mantra.The man is Jamie Wood and the show is Beating McEnroe, a monologue about the infamous Wimbledon showdown between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in 1980. It’s also about how the young Jamie came to terms with always being whupped at tennis by his older brother. It’s about hero worship and the awful realisation that one day, all heroes must inevitably be bested, often by people who don’t seem to deserve the acclaim. Along the way there’s some slapstick, some dancing and some very funny visual jokes. Wood’s charming persona allows him to effortlessly manipulate the audience into helping him out, acting as his umpires, his ball boys and girls even at one point impersonating him (nice one Susan!) and his big brother. This is interactive theatre at its best and while it’s undeniably a piece of fluff, it’s fluff that’s performed with great skill and a disarming lightness of touch – enough to earn it a nomination for a Total Theatre Award at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

I had the task of tying a carton of table salt to Jamie’s head, which might sound decidedly odd, but which resulted in the funniest visual gag of the night. I felt as though somehow I had contributed to the evening and left feeling rather pleased with myself. We caught this performance at the end of it’s run at the Traverse, but those seeking a genuinely entertaining night at the theatre could do a lot worse than booking to see this at the Lowry in Salford where it plays for just one night on Saturday 28th of March. You’ll believe a man can become a human tennis ball!

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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