Beating McEnroe


JOYCE MCMILLAN on BEATING MCENROE at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 14.3.15.

2 stars **

BACK IN THE LATE 1970’s, Bjorn Borg bestrode the world tennis scene like a colossus, winning five successive Wimbledon Men’s Championships, and thrilling millions of armchair sports fans with his Nordic coolness, short white shorts, and  apparently invincible skill.  Until, that is, his reign was ended by a fiery New York kid called John McEnroe, whose outraged cries of “You cannot be serious” rang around the world.

The children who were rising five back then are forty now; and one of them is writer and performance artist Jamie Wood, whose brief meditation on masculinity, and on the role of those mighty tennis stars in shaping his childhood ideas of how to be a man, plays at the Traverse this weekend.  Performed by Wood in a cosy jumpsuit and lion hat – soon discarded in favour of a white vest and tutu – Beating McEnroe is a light-touch patchwork of childhood memory, beguiling graphics, thoughtful text, stylised dance-like movement, and slightly over-insistent audience participation, all put rogether in the hand-knitted and intensely self-conscious style currently fashionable among Fringe performance artists.

At just over 50 minutes, Wood’s show is too laid-back for my taste, long on ironic self-awareness, short on substance and drive.  The subject, though – a gentle boy’s struggle with the competitive element of conventional masculinity – is a strong and touching one; and although it’s a slight evening for a full-whack ticket price, there’s undoubtedly a growing market for this kind of participatory theatre, where the artist involved doesn’t so much present a show, as invite us, very gently, to start rehearsing one with him.

Traverse Theatre, final performance tonight.



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