TENNIS ELBOW is the first play that John Byrne has written for thirteen years, and is in fact a companion piece to his critically successful Writer’s Cramp, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival forty-four years ago. Whereas that play dealt with aspiring writer and artist Francis McDade, this new one focuses on Pamela, his estranged wife. She is also a budding writer, and Tennis Elbow uses the play within a play format: Nitshill Writing Circle is paying homage to the life of their beloved mentor, Pamela, in a series of flashbacks including her school, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (Maureen Beattie a superb Mother Scholastica), a less well known Oxford college in 1938, as well as a stint in prison, where Sally Reid is very convincing in the role of Deidre ‘Double’ Davis. We also meet Louise Jamieson as Pamela’s Mama here, not sounding as convincingly Scottish, perhaps, as some of her colleagues.
In addition, we meet Pamela’s husband played by Brian Ferguson, Fiona Wood in several roles including a delightful ‘Winnie’, and Samuel West as a TV Announcer.
The role of Pamela – “her life an unfortunate series of mishaps and challenges” – is in the very capable hands of Kirsty Stuart, whose use of Byrne’s dialogue is very imaginative.
The play is convincingly directed by Elizabeth Newman, even if she finds it difficult to build the play towards its climax, and copious praise must be showered on Alisdair Mcgregor, whose imaginative sound design helps the listener to suspend belief, Louis Blatherwick, sound recorder, and composer Benjamin Occhipinti whose music is always apt and never intrusive.
The play itself is billed as ‘bittersweet, funny, witty and moving… in true Byrne fashion relishes wordplay, big ideas and… questions why we are here and why we make art’.
It makes for an interesting 90 minutes wet Sunday afternoon listening, but slightly overstays its welcome.
Review by John Groves
Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in collaboration with Naked Productions present
By John Byrne
Directed by Elizabeth Newman
Assistant Director Blythe Jandoo
Sound recordist – Louis Blatherwick
Sound designer – Alisdair McGregor
Composer – Benjamin Occhipinti
Executive Producer – Olly Thomas
Cast: Maureen Beattie (Narrator and Mother Scholastica); Cherylee Houston (Mrs Ripper); Brian Ferguson (McDade and Denholm Pantaloon); Jessica Hardwick (Reader/Brazil); Louise Jameson (Mama); Anne Odeke (Trusty); Sally Reid (Double Davis); Kirsty Stuart (Pam); Samuel West (TV Announcer) and Fiona Wood (Madge/Winnie/Voice).