For most young people nowadays, the names Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe will not be of much significance. Aside from seeing him commentating during Wimbledon, few will realise who the champion McEnroe was during the late 1970s and early 80s. However, for six-year-old Jamie Wood and his family, the world revolved around these two world-renowned players. It was the obsession his family possessed over their fierce competition with one another that had an inexplicably profound effect on Wood growing up. Looking back at this period when he was six years old, during a game where he saw his idol Borg beaten, appeared the idea that led to his award-winning play, Beating McEnroe.
For those who are put off by the title’s allusion to tennis, fear not; really this play is nothing to do with tennis. Instead, it is an immersive theatrical experience that takes the audience back in time, as Wood asks himself why Borg’s defeat to McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1981 had such an effect on him as a child, and still today. The play also puts today’s culture under the microscope, as he questions our “obsession with individuality”, simultaneously mocking the way we take ourselves so seriously. As surreal and philosophical as that may sound, that does not mean this play is an hour of dense and heavy-hitting contemplation. Instead, the audience is given the opportunity to become part of Wood’s journey, as he states that within the production “there is a lot of space to play”. Onstage he is there to make a fool of himself, along with introducing the audience to a lot of “weird shit” that promises to excite (what that weird shit may be exactly, I am yet to discover).
As his first one-man-show, Beating McEnroe has brought about new challenges for Jamie Wood, as he assumes the role of director, actor and writer. In discussing the new environment, Wood is very quick to acknowledge those who have helped him along the way; his co-directors Wendy Hubbard and Ellie Griffiths have been provoking and encouraging him since the very beginning and even the sound designer, Dominic Kennedy, played an important role in many of the choices made. This is a show that has been years in the making, starting off with a single idea and leading to studious research and experimentation with audiences. The real struggle that Wood has faced in doing this project is the sheer magnitude of the task. Being the sole actor, he understands the responsibility he has to captivate an entire audience, which understandably is an exhausting undertaking. The play’s material, memories that are deeply personal and very much a part of who he is now, adds a vulnerability to a funny yet thought-provoking show.
Although there is no distinct message that Wood wishes the audience to take away after watching Beating McEnroe, what he is determined to do is create a piece of theatre that is not boring. Rather than being pretentious and self-referential, Wood hopes that the audience will find the experience of Beating McEnroe to be not just peculiar and unique in its own way, but exciting. The show already has a positive buzz surrounding it, not just from critics and audience members. While some think it is hilarious, others also are moved by Wood’s exploration of childhood and how easily we are shaped by the ideas and beliefs of our family and those around us.
With its positive reviews and inclusive nature involving the whole audience, it is clear that this show has much more to offer than just a few laughs. Without a doubt, Beating McEnroe promises to be a unique and immersive experience unlike any other, and it is one that you certainly don’t want to miss.