THE road to Hell is, as the saying goes, paved with good intentions. There’s no doubt that Thrown – the new play for the National Theatre of Scotland by Nat McCleary – has its political heart in the right place. Unfortunately, as a work of theatre, it is nothing short of a disaster.

The play is set in the world of Scottish backhold wrestling. It finds three young women (Imogen, Jo and Chantelle) and one older woman (Helen) being coached for Highland Games competitions by Pamela (a devotee of New Age ideas who, in the course of the drama, begins a difficult transition from female to non-binary identity).

The sporting scenario is, alas, no more than a lightly sketched metaphor for the real subject, which is the vexed and topical subject of personal and social identity. The most significant wrestling being undertaken by each of the (sadly, two-dimensional) characters is, not with their fellow athletes, but with issues of identity (ID) politics.

Imogen, for instance, is a wealthy, black Londoner of Scottish birth, while Jo is a “mixed-race” Gaelic-speaker. Chantelle is white and working-class, as is Helen (who is bemused and, at times, upset by the identity conflicts that break out among her younger colleagues).

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By the time McCleary has established the characters’ various identities and related disputes we find that the play has engaged itself in a considerable array of weighty socio-political matters, including: race, gender, gender identification, class, national identity, online culture, generational distinctions and sexual orientation. The problem with this is that it descends quickly into a schematic, quasi-sociological exploration of current debates around “intersectionality” and “privilege theory”.

All of this leaves the show’s director Johnny McKnight precious little room for theatrical subtlety or nuance. There are a few carefully choreographed bouts of backhold wrestling, some histrionic arguments and very occasional flashes of nice writing (such as a joke about Helen wrestling a 12-year-old), but the overwhelming sense remains that of a heavy-handed political treatise.

No blame attaches to the talented, five-strong cast, who make a surprisingly decent fist of such unrewarding material. Questions have to be asked, however, about how this piece – which may well be the worst in the NTS’s 17-year history – managed to make it through the selection processes of Scotland’s national theatre company.

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It is, surely, the least we can expect of NTS artistic director Jackie Wylie and her team that – in their quest to present work that speaks to Scotland and the world in the 21st century – they prefer poetics to polemics. ID politics may seem to be very much of the socio-political zeitgeist, but – from Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, through Shakespeare’s Coriolanus to Lorraine Hansberry’s 20th-century classic A Raisin in the Sun – great theatre has always addressed matters of human identity.

It has done so, however, by expressing those identities through complex and universal human experience. Had it done so, as McCleary does here, through bald explication and point making, the narrative play would have died in Greece more than 2500 years ago.

Touring until August 27: