The Guardian 28.11.00
creating a bit of a stir at this year's Edinburgh festival with the Andes
air-crash show, The Ballad of Bobby Francois, the performance collective Shunt
come down to earth with a bang. The Tennis Show is no more than a jolly jape
with all the hallmarks of a student prank.
The real pity is that a company that has already proved itself capable of completely altering and unsettling audiences' perceptions by transforming spaces, should make so little of the Museum Of, one of the most intriguing performance venues in London.
Things begin promisingly enough with men and women being separated and herded into different rooms. In ours, two women, naked but for stuck-on moustaches, offered to sign autographs. A man wanders in and is expelled from the room. A figure swings from a rope ladder. The atmosphere is languid, as if this is a summer house party back in the 1920s. The women wander around and sit on two pristine white toilets. The music is jaunty: "This is not a game. Win, win, win." The audience waits for something to happen and I wonder idly whether the men are having a better time.
Then it's time for a nip of vodka and a journey through the clubhouse. On the other side, the men and women are reunited but forced to sit on benches on either side of a long, narrow, clay tennis court. Strangely the trampled earth makes you think of trenches. The surrounding netting is topped by barbed wire.
What follows is the rapid fire of balls thudding on to the empty court from a ball machine. A male and female umpire squabble. Linesmen and lineswomen Tippex in the white lines. But gradually the court markings and the net disappear. Only the calls continue. "Foot fault. Second service. Out." It is as if some strange ritual is being played out.
Eventually all that is left is the space that is now filled only by a young couple picnicking. They are obviously at the start of their relationship, at that golden moment when attraction and friendship turn to love. You wonder if everything else you have witnessed was the playing out of this relationship to its bitter end. The tennis match as the battle of the sexes, the death of love. All I know is that this brief scene of human emotion is a welcome injection of warmth into a performance that is otherwise extremely icy in more ways than one. The hot-water bottles provided for the audience are a nice touch.
The evening is never sufficiently interesting either theatrically or intellectually to hold your attention, and there is more to be learned about rules, ritual, transgression, the will to win and hating the person on the other side of the net, from a real tennis match.