Festival Theatre


Traverse Theatre

Neil Cooper 

Four stars


Wrestling of one form or another has always been a handy metaphor to dramatise the thorny issues of identity politics, be they based on class, race, sex or gender. This seems true of women’s wrestling, in particular. See Claire Luckham’s 1978 feminist fable best known as Trafford Tanzi, all the way up to Netflix hit, G.L.O.W.

As Nat McCleary’s debut play makes clear from the start, however, this potent dissection of five women’s lives has nothing to do with the showbiz glitz of the professional ring. Rather, the bonding that comes between the women is done by way of Backhold Wrestling, an infinitely grittier fixture of the Highland Games circuit.

Here, driven team leader Pamela trains up Imogen, Helen, Jo and Chantelle to take on all comers. The biggest confrontations, however, come between themselves, as they spar with each other emotionally while wrestling with private demons.

While middle aged Helen searches for a new life, the bond between mixed-race Jo and her best friend Chantelle is threatened by well-heeled London girl Imogen. Most troubled of all is Pamela, whose uptight demeanour masks a struggle to find her true self.

All this is brought to combative life in Johnny McKnight’s National Theatre of Scotland production with energetic verve. The crack squad of Efè Agwele as Imogen, Maureen Carr as Helen, Lesley Hart as Pamela, Adiza Shardow as Jo and Chloe-Ann Tylor as Chantelle never let up for a second.

In essence, McCleary’s play isn’t a million miles away from what John Godber used to do with various sporting subjects in some of his popular plays for Hull Truck Theatre. Given a 21st century kick by current social mores as much as Luke Sutherland’s score, Thrown possesses vigour enough to give it fresh currency in its heart and soul depiction of five women of today holding on for dear life.