I Heart John McEnroe

McEnroe_Lachlan WoodsIf you were to ask a person on the street what the words ‘John McEnroe’ meant to them, what would they say? Chances are, you’d get as many people talking about midgame tantrums as his tennis prowess. That’s the premise that Clare Watson begins with, in Uninvited Guests’ new work, I Heart John McEnroe.

From the moment you enter the theatre, you are set up to compete. The theatre is a tennis court – the audience sits on one side, opposite a giant, linear portrait of the man himself, as ball girl Ivy Miller clears away a basket-full of tennis balls, strewn across the court.

The three John McEnroes (Katherine Tonkin, Luke Mullins and Bert LeBonte) enter the court and the game is on. As they compete to prove their worth as the ultimate John McEnroe, recreating one of his most famous dummy spits, racing to the net with a factoid competition, aping his accent and weaving his personal history with their own, we get a picture of just how ridiculous obsession and competition are. Natasha Herbert later joins them, when she subs for the heavily pregnant Tonkin.

In a horrifying and hilarious series of vignettes, we see the actors play out their obsession, through mimicry, fanatic competition and a strange McEnroe-rage-therapy session. As actors playing actors playing McEnroe, the cast walks a fine line between an entertaining, honest performance and nonsense. I think they came out well on the right side of that line.

The only moment in which the show started to drag was during the climax. I won’t detail it, and ruin the surprise, but on the night I attended, the crescendo was missing and the scene seemed to peak too early and then plateau. However, this was a minor glitch in an otherwise highly entertaining piece.

Do not be mistaken. This is not a show about John McEnroe. It’s not even, really, a show about rage. (After all, how would you examine an emotion without any context of its origin?) This is, like all good theatre, a show about people. About how we evaluate each other, how we manipulate each other to suit our means and how quickly we can become ridiculous and childish in the face of defeat.

John McEnroe was the best of his day, and his obsession with maintaining his position made him a fascinating, horrific and tragic character. Eventually, it turned him into a caricature of himself.

I Heart John McEnroe is an entertaining, insightful piece of theatre. It is well realised and left the audience laughing, thinking and ultimately satisfied.

I Heart John McEnroe
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St. Kilda
Performance: Saturday 2 August 2014 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 10 August 2014
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 or online at: www.theatreworks.org.au

For more information, visit: www.theatreworks.org.au for details.

Image: Cast in I Heart John McEnroe – photo by Lachlan Woods

Review: Jennifer Piper