Thrown by Jodi Gray takes live recording and hypnotic sound design to explore coming of age, childhood memory and the very state of recollection itself. Dream-like, sensory, and unnerving, Thrown is an interesting addition to storytelling on stage, though perhaps an addition which could be pushed further.
Upon entrance to Underbelly’s dark, damp Big Belly, the audience are each handed a pair of wireless headphones. These are connected to a microphone onstage, shaped like the human head. As actor Jill Rutland speaks, her soft voice pans into left and right ears, in an initially unsettling and eventually immersive experience.
Thrown is visceral; Chris Dorhan’s eerie sound design combines with staging, spectral lighting and language – almost poetry – to create an other-worldly experience. The stage becomes a believable imagining of the human mind and consciousness, switching between this image of the psyche and the recollection of individual memories. It all makes for a thoroughly distinctive way of watching theatre, enhanced by, but not solely due to, experimentation with audio technology.
From watching death to wearing high-heels, Rutland describes the moments when a child is thrown into adulthood, pasting together the individual coming-of-age memories of many women. These singular recollections are weaved around a current narrative, as child psychologist Dr Constance Ellis records her memories before she loses them. She speaks of ‘I’, then ‘we’; to her past, present and future selves; to the audience; and to unnamed characters, adopting the personae of the protagonists of these collected memories in a tour de force of acting.
Yet without a clear through-line, these vignettes are hard to follow and understand, and the sense and beauty of them is somewhat lost while the audience tries to piece them together. Thrown also seemed to lack depth and a wider sense of meaning. Its fantastic use of sound, phenomenal acting and interesting collected testimony are let down by this apparent lack of message – the play could have used a better awareness of its intention, or at least a clearer translation of it.
Perhaps it would feel more finished if it explored the theme of memory further – even looking into the unreliability of it, or the link between adult development and these childhood events. Though the total effect of Thrown was like no other piece of theatre I’ve seen before, the concept and idea could have gone further.
That being said, Thrown was a highly interesting piece of theatre to watch, with its separate elements coming together harmoniously. For a show that self-proclaims that it is heard, rather than watched, Thrown was both a visual and an audio unique experience, and one that I will never forget.