Review: Tennis Elbow, Sound Stage

Audio-digital platform Sound Stage stumbles a little with John Byrne’s Tennis Elbow, a new play that feels terribly dated

“Park your bottie, let’s have some cheese and crackers”

After a powerfully evocative start with Mark Ravenhill’s Angela, the audio-digital platform Sound Stage stumbles a little with its second instalment Tennis Elbow. Written by Scottish arts titan John Byrne – his first play in 13 years – it acts as a follow up to his 1977 play Writer’s Cramp and thus tying its fortunes very closely with that original work.

Presented as a story-within-a-story and narrated by the fabulous Maureen Beattie, we’re treated to a succession of biographical snippets from the life of Pamela Crichton-Capers, ostensibly an undersung artist who just happens to be the wife of Francis Seneca McDade, also an undersung artist who was the subject of Writer’s Cramp.

But if you haven’t read or seen Writer’s Cramp, this won’t mean much to you. And more crucially, even if you have, it won’t make Tennis Elbow that much more interesting. Byrne’s writing borrows heavily from his original and so proves rather stale, offering little by means of modern perspective or even any real sense of hard-earned wisdom that might have been imparted.

Instead, we’re left to meander through a series of fast-flowing but disconnected episodes that struggle to work in this audio context, even under the assured hand of the Elizabeth Newman. WIth her at the helm, performances are strong – Kirsty Stuart and Brian Ferguson standing out – but the material is guilty of much more than a foot fault. 

Tennis Elbow is streaming online until 8th May

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