friday 20th june 2008
national theatre of scotland
By Gregory Burke
Directed by John Tiffany
We were on our feet at the end of this- brilliantly realised, brilliantly performed - powerful compelling theatre at its very very best
Barbican Theatre again in traverse
We walk into swirling lights and the pipes - the atmosphere of a military tattoo
At each end are a pair of TV screens showing a billowing Scottish flag
The lights sweep over the stage (parade ground?) and us on each bank of seats facing across from each other.
“Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the Black Watch…”
And out comes Stewarty in civvies talking to us
This show was exceptional in many different aspects- and the combination of all these together:
1- it was told with great care and truthfulness. you felt it really mattered to them to get these guy's stories right, to tell it as it really was for them. And it always felt true and honest all the way thru
2. The performers were all totally believable as soldiers -so much so that i never once found myself thinking ‘who is playing which other roles?’ (the same actor -Michael Nardone - plays both the writer and the sergeant but i didn’t think about this until the curtain call. the men are all completely recognisable from my brief time in the army and this is all the more impressive given that they are required to dance and perform some very theatrical sequences including dance. it all feels completely right- the swearing-every-second-word, the endless waiting around inventing games to stay amused, the constant talk about sex (in the absence of any other way to talk about feelings and share intimacy with each other), the picking on the 'stupid' one who always seems out of sync with the conversation
3 . And then this story is performed with a rich blend of different styles - physical theatre / dance to show the battle drills, the fighting between each other and in the last spectacular sequence of parade ground marching-falling-dying-getting up-marching. We also get singing and one soldier plays the pipes to accompany the removal of their killed buddies after the suicide bomb. We even get the history of the Black Watch and its different uniforms and masters through the ages
The screens are used to show bombing action surveillance camera views (which creates a strong sense of place outside), and football in the bar scenes back home in Scotland. oh and a brief bit of porn.
The traverse works well this time especially with the use of different heights
Also memorable and effective
The red billiard table which is cut through to release the soldiers on watch immediately after the first bar scene; which is then later used as a ‘wagon’ on which five soldiers are contained together forced too close to each other and stuck waiting for backup in transit; the two soldiers sunbathing with their pants around their ankles so they are technically still battle-ready; and the slow-mo on wires death through the explosion of the three soldiers killed by the suicide bomber
Everything in this show is got absolutely right
Time Out ****** The Guardian***** The Sunday Times***** Metro***** Evening Standard***** Sunday Telegraph*****
'One of the few shows anywhere in the UK that could be described as perfect; it was a vision of how theatre could be.’ The Daily Telegraph
Multi-award-winning Black Watch received unanimous critical acclaim at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival and on its subsequent Scottish and international tours. Hurtling from a pool room in Fife to an armoured wagon in a war zone, the play is based on interviews conducted by Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in Iraq. Viewed through the eyes of those on the ground, Black Watch reveals what it means to be part of the legendary Scottish regiment, what it means to be part of the war on terror, and what it means to make the journey home again. A visceral, complex and urgent piece of theatre.
The National Theatre of Scotland exists to build a new generation of theatre-goers as well as reinvigorating the existing ones; to create theatre on a national and international scale that exceeds expectations of what and where theatre can be. The National Theatre of Scotland has no building, so the entire focus is on creating work. Performance is created in great theatre spaces, but also in site specific locations, community halls and drill halls, car parks and forests. The company has won a clutch of awards including a South Bank Show award for Black Watch and a Critics' Circle Award for director John Tiffany.
Gregory Burke also recently won the Best Play Writers' Guild Award for Black Watch.
‘… rich, exciting, humane and moving, and staged with dazzling virtuosity by John Tiffany.’ Evening Standard
'...a glowing ensemble production… worked even better in a reconfigured Barbican...’ The Guardian
'John Tiffany's stunning production....confirms its place as the modern theatre's best piece about British soldiering...' Whatsonstage.com
Reviews from 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
‘A magnificent piece of social and political theatre. A high point not just of the festival but of the theatrical year.’ The Observer
‘No film could ever match the power and immediacy of this portrait of war; it’s a triumph for the National Theatre of Scotland.’ Time Out ******
‘One of the most exhilarating pieces of theatre seen for years.’ The Guardian*****
‘This wasn’t simply the sensation of the Edinburgh Fringe, but one of the few shows anywhere in the UK that could be described as perfect; it was a vision of how theatre could be.’ The Telegraph*****
‘Not just the hit of the Edinburgh Festival, it was also the most viscerally exciting thing I’d seen there for a decade.’ Sunday Times*****