“Thrown”, Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival
Traverse Theatre
80 minutes
To 27 August
[May be sold out at time of publication]

17 August 2023
Maggie Rose in Edinburgh


This is Nat McCleary’s debut play. She trained at the London Contemporary Dance School and had a successful early career in dance and choreography. McCleary has now been drawn to theatre and writing but her earlier interests remain to the fore.

Thrown puts centre-stage five very different women. They have all been drawn to the Highlands to prepare to compete in the old Celtic folk sport of backhold wrestling, part of Scotland’s annual Highland Games.

Needless to say, the piece is very physical, the women performing some challenging holds, with varying degrees of success, under the guidance, encouragement, and sometimes chastisement of their coach.

As the play develops, though, the sport element takes second place, giving way to a focus on the relationships among the group and their ability to form a strong team which can win in a sporting context.

The women differ in age, physique, language, social class, ethnicity and culture, all of which contribute to a deeply conflictual piece of theatre. Characters include the beautiful Chantelle and her mixed-race girlfriend Jo, both working-class women who have known each other since childhood. They are going through a bad patch because Jo intends to leave Scotland and her partner for a job in London.

There’s Imogen, the rich, black, privately educated Londoner, who was born in Scotland and has returned to try and find her roots. She clashes with nearly everybody in the group. There’s middle-aged Helen, who has just seen her marriage collapse and is bravely looking for new challenges, while Pamela, the coach, is trying to cope with an existential crisis.

On another level, the play might be seen as an overarching metaphor for Scottish society, which, given its plural identities, sometimes struggles to come together and achieve its goals. Director Johnny McKnight skilfully hones what is a cycle of sixty, sometimes over-short scenes, making them flow, and accompanies them with an excellent music score and sound effects by Luke Sutherland and Tom Penny. No problems in coalescing across this cast.

The movement direction, a vital ingredient given the nature of the action, is by Lucy Glassbrook. She has broadly similar experience in her acclaimed work for “Fighting Irish” at the Belgrade Theatre which features boxing.

The actors all excel with their technical armouries being tested by the physicality of the play and the intricate interactions. It would appear that no holds were barred. It’s an enjoyable if somewhat fragmented piece of theatre.