What makes the National Theatre of Scotland fascinating is that it constantly tours—it calls no singular town in the country home. The “theatre without walls” aims to bring productions about Scotland and its people to all of its people. It works to build connections between people within the country as much as it does between Scotland and the world.
In part, this is due to how National Theatre of Scotland was created. Once the Scottish Parliament was founded in 1999, it developed cultural plans which included the idea of a Scottish national theatre. Following a report in 2001, the Scottish government committed funding to the establishment of the National Theatre of Scotland beginning in 2003. Since it began over 15 years ago, the National Theatre of Scotland has brought over 200 productions to theatres, schools, town halls, and more locations.
And this August, it’s bringing Thrown by Nat McCleary to Edinburgh.
Thrown will play at the Traverse Theatre August 3-27, technically being presented as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, another arts festival that runs concurrently with Fringe. (In fact, the Fringe began as a rebellion against the curation of the EIF.) The new work follows five women who gather in the mud of Scotland’s Highland Games circuit to compete in backhold wrestling. The amateurs try to work together as a team to win the championship, but must also face how they may be getting in each other’s way. The production stars Efè Agwele as Imogen, Maureen Carr as Helen, Lesley Hart as Pamela, Chloe-Ann Taylor as Chantelle, and Adiza Shardow as Jo.
The funny drama uses the backdrop of the traditional Highland Games (if you’ve ever seen people in kilts trying to flip a tree trunk end over end, that’s one of the events) to explore belonging and identity in Scotland. Johnny McKnight directs, joined by set designer Karen Tennent, lighting designer Lizzie Powell, costume designer Sabrina Henry, composer Luke Sutherland, sound designer Tom Penny, and movement director Lucy Glassbrook. Thrown is currently touring with stops at Dunoon, Helensburgh, Ballater, Aberdeen, Isle of Mull, Oban, Dunkeld, and Portree before coming to the capital. Some of these stops are big towns within Scotland—and some are smaller villages in the Highlands’ Cairngorms National Park, or out on the islands off Scotland’s western shores.
The National Theatre of Scotland travels beyond the borders of its home country, too. Last year, it co-produced Burn starring Alan Cumming with Edinburgh International Festival and New York City’s Joyce Theater. Cumming played Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns in a solo show that blended Burns’ own words from personal correspondence and his poetry with dance. (Because it ran concurrent to Fringe, Playbill was able to catch the show on our annual Playbill Goes Fringe trip when it was mounted in Edinburgh last August.) It then transferred across the Atlantic to Off-Broadway’s Joyce Theater. The solo show featured music by Anna Meredith, illusions by Kevin Quantum, and choreography by Steven Hoggett, who co-created the piece with Cumming.
Burn isn’t the only National Theatre of Scotland production to have arrived stateside. Cumming had previously worked with National Theatre of Scotland on Macbeth in 2012, which played in Glasgow before transferring to New York City. It first ran as part of the Lincoln Center Festival before being mounted on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore in 2013. National Theatre of Scotland’s Olivier-winning production of Gregory Burke’s Black Watch came to Off-Broadway’s St. Ann’s warehouse in 2008 under the direction of John Tiffany. National Theatre of Scotland and Tiffany both returned to the Brooklyn theatre with Let the Right One In, Jack Thorne’s stage adaptation of the vampire horror novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, in 2015. And most recently, its production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart played Off-Broadway at The McKittrick Hotel earlier this year after several tours and running at Edinburgh Fringe. (Prudencia Hart actually starred Thrown's playwright Nat McCleary—read more about her experiences with the production in this Playbill interview.)
Most of these stories are explicitly Scottish. Burn explores the life of one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets. Though written by Shakespeare (who was English), Macbeth is one of the most famous stories to be set in Scotland. Black Watch tells the story of a Scottish regiment of soldiers stationed in Iraq. And The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart delves into Scottish folklore and culture while also taking place there. And its through these stories that National Theatre of Scotland is exploring pertinent topics for Scots as much as it is introducing the rest of the world to Scotland.