REVIEW: Black Watch, Glasgow

Black Watch, National Theatre of Scotland
SECC, Glasgow, performing until 13 April

Seven years after its hugely successful premiere, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch returned to the SECC last month. Gregory Burke’s immense production remains just as powerful to Scottish audiences, most of whom will have heard of the show by now but may not be quite as prepared for its poignant glory.

Directed by John Tiffany, Black Watch opened at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, where it won an array of awards: Scotsman Fringe First, the Critics Circle Award, a Herald Angel and the South Bank Show Award for Theatre. During its world tour, the production won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best New Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

Based on Burke’s interviews with former soldiers, Black Watch is told as a series of flashbacks through the eyes of disillusioned Scottish soldiers to an investigative journalist who wants to know “what it was like…for the soldiers. On the ground.” The journalist’s naivety reflects the general public’s inability to understand the reality of Iraq. At one point when he asks a soldier suffering from depression about his experience, the man threatens to break his arm because: “If he wants tae ken about Iraq, he has tae feel some pain.” From the voice over at the outset of the play, Burke defamiliarises the audience from a stereotypical war production: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the unique setting of the SECC…”

The script and delivery are powerful in their own way but the dialogue is accompanied with an unexpected sense of movement, drill and music. With a backdrop of diverse music from Cliff Martine, Yann Tiersen, The Gallant 42 and Snow Patrol to original music from Max Richter and Davey Anderson as well as the emotive Lament the Flouers o the Forest, we are taken from a pub in Fife to the battlefield in Iraq. Part of the enormous power of Black Watch is its use of movement: when the soldiers receive letters from home, they are never read out to the audience but they don’t need to be; the delicate hand gestures carried out by the cast demonstrate the emotions of the soldiers more than words ever could. Phenomenal among the wonderful cast in this technically brilliant production are Stuart Martin (Cammy), Andrew Fraser (Fraz), Daniel Portman (Kenzie), Richard Rankin (Granty), and Gavin Jon Wright (Nabsy).

Black Watch reveals what it means to be part of the legendary Scottish regiment, what it means to be part of the war of terror and what it means to survive the journey home. Despite displaying anti-war sentiments throughout, the production conveys a deep respect for the Black Watch tradition and its legacy.

[rating=5]

Find out more about Black Watch and grab some last-minute tickets at www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

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