Pell-mell, helter skelter, the joshing wordplay rains down. No chance for parody is resisted, no phrase left unturned. Tennis Elbow is the work of a tremendously inventive comic playwright. But the pace is relentless: jokes are left gasping for breath.
John Byrne’s play is the second Sound Stage audio drama produced by Pitlochry Festival theatre with Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and Naked Productions. It’s a new take on an old success. In 1977, Byrne – later acclaimed for BBC Scotland’s terrific TV series Tutti Frutti – shook the Edinburgh fringe with Writer’s Cramp, a spoof biography of the imaginary Francis Seneca McDade, a writer and artist of grand aims and dodgy talent.
Now Byrne recreates this mid-20th-century landscape from the point of view of McDade’s artist wife, the sapphically inclined Pamela Crichton Capers. Various cultural grabs – men from women, English from Scots, posh from less-so – are given a good going over as the heroine moves through convent school, St Mildred’s College, Oxford, BBC arts programming – and prison. The rum slang of the English establishment gets a jolly good shout: “Dickers got Anners preggers at Twickers.” Affectation is sent up in the shape of a critic called Denholm Pantaloon and in parodies of literary tics and genres. Minutes swim by on rafts of alliteration: the Pink Parasol Press in Prestatyn is responsible for paperback publication. Pam writes an epic poem called “Dimples” and a bodice ripper in which Wanda feels “every sinew of her lithe body tighten”. Every now and then there’s a touch of old Scots.
Maureen Beattie is a commanding, sceptical narrator and Kirsty Stuart a versatile heroine; Cherylee Houston has fun as the cod cockney landlady Mrs Ripper. Elizabeth Newman’s production has a strong sense of period but the targets are now too familiar for the satire to have real edge. Perhaps that will come: after Writer’s Cramp and Tennis Elbow it is surely time for Housemaid’s Knee?