All White Everything But Me Review

Live Theatre, Newcastle – until Saturday 6th July 2024


Reviewed by Sandra Little

This one woman play, written and performed by Kemi-Bo Jacobs and directed by Becky Morris was first performed at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle in 2022. It charts the life and career of Althea Gibson, who was born to sharecroppers in South Carolina in 1927. Althea became the first black tennis player to win at Wimbledon in 1957 and despite this remarkable achievement her story has remained virtually untold.

The first taste of success for Althea came when she was 12 and won a local paddle tennis competition; she then went on to achieve further success after being coached by Buddy Walker. Althea eventually left her home in Harlem to take up the offer of a scholarship in Florida. At 22 Althea was the National Indoor Tennis Champion, but despite her talent and success, she was not allowed to play in “all white” competitions. After sending off numerous applications Althea was eventually allowed to participate in American Tennis Association competitions, however she was not allowed to attend social functions! After winning Wimbledon in 1957 Althea returned to America to a ticker tape parade and at the age of 28 she turned professional.

This high energy one woman performance by Kemi-Bo Jacobs not only highlights Althea’s talent and determination to win tennis competitions but also her struggles to overcome the barriers she encountered due to the racism which existed in America at the time. There is mention of the death of her friend for example, and reference to the murder of Emmett Till who was lynched for whistling at a white woman .

The set for this play is very simple, consisting mainly of a white rocking chair and white tennis balls We are told that tennis balls at the time of Althea’s success, “like everything else,” were white. Yellow tennis balls were not introduced at Wimbledon until 1986. Althea’s costume for this performance is also white.

Whilst the dialogue throughout this this 70 minute performance was extremely fast paced, and packed with interesting information, I would have preferred the pace of delivery to be a little slower in some parts. I feel that a more varied pace would have enhanced the impact of some very powerful statements.

This play does come with a warning about the material including discussion of racial insults and physical abuse however I felt that both issues are addressed sensitively. Although this play coincides with Wimbledon fortnight it is not primarily a play about tennis; it is more about the forgotten story of a talented woman who had to battle against strongly held racist views to achieve her success. It also raises the question, “Why has this woman’s story been overlooked for so long?”

Running time is 70 minutes with no interval