The Edinburgh International Festival showcases three politically themed productions that explore questions of nationhood, identity, and belonging. This year’s tagline, “community over chaos,” resonates strongly in the play “Thrown,” produced by the National Theater of Scotland and currently running at the Traverse Theater until August 27th. Written by Nat McCleary and directed by Johnny McKnight, “Thrown” is a sentimental comedy about five women from Glasgow who venture into the Scottish countryside to participate in a backhold wrestling tournament. As they compete, they reflect on what it truly means to be Scottish, making lighthearted jokes about haggis, kilts, and “Braveheart.” However, conflicts arise as Jo and Chantelle, both working-class women and best friends, clash with Imogen, a black woman from a privileged background. Imogen’s encouragement to Jo to engage in racial politics strains their friendship, revealing the complexities of oppression.
In “Dusk,” a collaboration between Brazilian theater maker Christiane Jatahy and the Swiss company Comédie de Genève, the story follows Graça, an undocumented migrant who finds employment with a French-speaking theater group adapting Lars Von Trier’s film “Dogville.” Although the group initially believes they are helping Graça, tensions arise as troubling stories about her past emerge. The women in the group become hostile, suspecting Graça of pursuing their partners, while a male colleague, who is now naturalized, resents her as a reminder of his own experiences as an outsider. Exploitation and abuse, both psychological and sexual, ensue. Jatahy’s production combines theater and cinema, with live action recorded and displayed on a large screen. However, the screen overwhelms the actors, diverting attention away from their physical presence.
On the other hand, the National Changgeuk Company of Korea presents a breathtaking production of Euripides’ “Trojan Women.” Set immediately after the Trojan War, the play portrays the women of Troy awaiting their fate as their city has fallen. The production masterfully incorporates Pansori, a form of Korean musical storytelling accompanied by drumming. The propulsive beats of the drum, coupled with haunting melodies and powerful vocals, create a poignant blend of sorrow and defiance. The set, simple yet imposing, features a tunnel through which the women emerge, dressed in white, and staircases evoking fire and sea. This ancient play resonates with contemporary events, with the ongoing genocide by ISIS of the Yazidi people and the sexual violence perpetrated by Russian soldiers in Ukraine serving as reminders of the enduring cruelty of war.
Overall, the politically themed productions at the Edinburgh International Festival highlight the complexities of nationhood, identity, and belonging. While “Thrown” explores Scottish heritage and the challenges of friendship, “Dusk” delves into issues of liberal hypocrisy and exploitation. In contrast, “Trojan Women” presents a powerful portrayal of the consequences of war. Through their narratives, these productions provoke thought and reflection on the pressing issues of our time.
The Edinburgh International Festival continues until August 28th, featuring performances at various venues throughout the city.