When John Byrne’s Writer’s Cramp premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1977, word of mouth ensured it was a sell out, even if the Calton Studios venue could only hold a handful of people. It launched the careers of several Scottish actors, as well as shining a light on Byrne himself who would go on to write a BAFTA Award winning television series, and The Slab Boys Trilogy of plays. Byrne returns with his first new play in 13 years; Tennis Elbow serves as a sort-of-sequel to Writer’s Cramp, and is the second production to come to Sound Stage, The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new audio digital theatre platform.
For anyone familiar with Writer’s Cramp, it will feel comforting to be back as a member of the Nitshill Writing Circle to relive the work of a ‘genius’, but in Tennis Elbow our protagonist is not Francis Seneca McDade as it was in the original, but Pamela Crichton Capers. It’s hinted that ‘Pam’ is McDade’s wife, but to explain the exact nature of this clever gender swapped version of the play would be too much of a spoiler, and best left to the listener to discover for themselves.
Tennis Elbow follows much the same path as Writer’s Cramp. Through a series of letters, journals and other written testimony, we explore the frivolous life of the fictional Scottish writer Pamela Crichton Capers (Kirsty Stuart). From early days at Our Lady of Perpetual Succor High School for Girls, to eventual success, Tennis Elbow pokes some loving fun at the typical BBC radio play synonymous with the time.
Pam’s love of alliteration is clearly shared by the playwright, but then it was always known there was an element of the autobiographical about these plays. The vocal gymnastics create a musical like rhythm that draws the listening audience ever deeper to the fold.
This word play also adds to the comedic nature of Tennis Elbow, although it is by its nature a very funny play. The passionate oratory of the narrator (Maureen Beattie) plays delightfully against Stuart’s Crichton Capers, while Louise Jameson’s Mama brings yet another delicious slice of comedy to the fore.
Listeners will enjoy the comforting recurring themes, particularly in the reading of Pam’s letters; the general distrust of anyone handling her mail whilst on the constant scrounge, gives a very succinct view of our central character. Elizabeth Newman’s taught direction brings all of these elements together, splicing seamlessly between the world of the narrator and that of Crichton Capers.
In 1977 the hottest ticket in Edinburgh was for Writer’s Cramp, and now in 2021 its sequel, Tennis Elbow, is sure to prove just as popular. Thankfully the audience capacity for Sound Stage is significantly larger than Calton Studios, and there’s no reason to miss out on this gem of Scottish writing.