Click here to read about the original Edinburgh production, including the UK reviews and press coverage.
Written by: Gregory Burke
Director: John Tiffany
Associate Director (movement): Steven Hoggett
Associate Director (music): Davey Anderson
Set Designer: Laura Hopkins
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell
Costume Designer: Jessica Brettle
Video Design: Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer
National Theatre of Scotland
Barbican, London, June-July 2007
Following a sell out run at the Edinburgh Festival in summer 2006, unanimous critical acclaim and a stunning audience response, the award winning Black Watch is now on tour in the UK.
The show opens at the Barbican Centre on June 20th. For full tour details and to book tickets, click here
Hurtling from a pool room in Fife to an armoured wagon in Iraq, Black Watch is based on recent 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.
Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer led the Fifty Nine Productions team on the video design for the show, which included material shot by soldiers and embedded journalists in Iraq, as well as entirely new bespoke footage, played out onto multiple screens and projection surfaces throughout the play.
'Gregory Burke's magnificent Black Watch rips us out of our domestic comfort zone. His masterstroke is that he does not attempt to write a war drama. Instead, drawing on interviews with soldiers who fought in Iraq, he lets them speak in their own words. The result is a raw, rough, thrilling piece of reportage which takes us inside that incommunicable fire in the role of embedded audience.'
'This is not only an urgently topical piece about the sort of conflict soldiers have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the changing nature of warfare and about the morality of fighting; it is also a superb, multi-faceted political and social drama. It explores the male psyche with sympathy and wit. And in John Tiffany’s outstanding production for the National Theatre of Scotland, it becomes a blistering piece of physical theatre – by turns comical, visceral and, surprisingly, lyrical.'
***** Financial Times
'Gregory Burke’s Black Watch, directed by John Tiffany for the new National Theatre of Scotland, first appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, to great acclaim. It began a world tour in 2007, and now finally makes it to London, where the run is officially sold out – but get in if you can. This is an exceptionally intense and powerful piece of theatre.'
***** Sunday Times
Here is a startling, noisy, upsetting, violently thrilling show. It follows the experiences of eight fighting men, their sergeant and officer.
'The Barbican's theatre has been reconfigured so that the action takes place between two banks of temporary seats.
Scaffolding at either end allows for various stunts. A billiards table imaginatively becomes the inside of an armoured troop carrier. The lads sing their regimental song, The Gallant Forty-Twa, and your neck tingles.'
'The performance area itself is endlessly adaptable as we move back and forth between a Scottish pub and the combat zone … Soldiers emerge from the innards of a pool table which turns into an army jeep. An actor is tossed around like a tailor’s dummy as he is dressed, undressed and dressed again in three centuries’ worth of Black Watch uniforms … Using a crackling script infused with four-letter humour, John Tiffany’s production is nothing short of spectacular. The cast, too, is flawless: by the end it is hard to believe that this coiled, dangerous lot are actors at all … '
**** Daily Express
'So decorated with praise and claims of epoch-defining significance is John Tiffany’s National Theatre of Scotland production that it bears an awesome burden of expectation. Yet it more than lives up to the hype … Rather than political polemic … the work is concerned with the actual experience of fighting men: not just combat, but the boredom, the humour, the comradeship and the pride … Steven Hoggett’s exquisite movement direction gives military routine a sinewy, almost balletic grace. A squaddie clutching his head in hands, contorted in misery, is revived by a touch on the shoulder from his sergeant that speaks worlds of comfort and empathy. And in the men’s coarse, uncompromising language is wit, wisdom and an absolute absence of apology or self-pity … The ensemble playing is faultless, the fusion of text and production seamless, unsentimental and emotionally devastating.'
***** The Times
'John Tiffany's compelling, brilliantly marshalled production marches in triumph into London … The power of the play lies in the way it draws together elements rarely found in tandem. On the aesthetic level, it unites the gritty authenticity of verbatim drama and the poetic theatricality of a style of staging prepared to embrace emotionally expressive choreography, plangent military song, video projection, and subtext-revealing mime. On the moral plane, it conjoins dismay at this particular conflict with elegiac sorrow for a regiment betrayed simultaneously on two fronts … The cast achieve perfection both at the drilled physical dynamism and the filthy, expletive-choked gallows humour … Full of intelligent, heart-twisting ambivalence, Black Watch is a landmark event.'
**** The Independent
'The rave reviews from Edinburgh and overseas were right. Gregory Burke's play showing the venerable Black Watch under fire in Iraq and under threat at home is rich, exciting, humane and moving, and staged with dazzling virtuosity by John Tiffany … Although the show's creators claim to have no political axe to grind, they regard the Iraq War as a reckless adventure - 'bullying' that wasted lives and sullied the reputation of the British soldier. But Burke demands, and earns, sympathy for the ambivalent pawns caught up in this unpopular conflict … If you were looking to pick faults in this majestic piece, you could say it sometimes seems to regard valour, loyalty and thuggishness as equally demanding of respect. And it is arch at times, as when actors playing soldiers ask the actor playing the writer whether actors get laid a lot. Never mind. Burke and Tiffany are supremely well-served by a ten-strong cast that cannot only act, but also look credibly fit, hard and potentially dangerous.'
Put simply, it's essential that you see Black Watch . . . it's among the most compelling theater pieces you could wish to see. And weep for, in a sense. The production from Scotland's National Theater is a magnificent one, and its awesome reality and humaneness will overwhelm you.
Its gifted (and good-humored) Scots dramatist Gregory Burke is the product of a great tradition in Scotland of a theater of passionate social conscience and historic "local" community issues. (In this case, the local achieves universal significance.)
Mr Burke's play is based on the personal testimonials of 10 former Black Watch soldiers whom he interviewed at length, and the imaginative brilliance of the director John Tiffany and his entire creative team have brought it to shattering life.
Watching 10 terrific Scots actors reenact young working class squaddies facing death and suicide bombers in the quagmire of Iraq might appear to come uncomfortably close to a case of traumatic tourism. But Black Watch is much too real and emotionally convincing for that - and it wrong-foots us all, daringly, from the start.
As I run out of space and superlatives, let's just say that if there comes along another new play and production as stunningly relevant as this one, we'll be blessed.
New York Observer
Black Watch . . . arrives like a blazing redeemer in the greyness of the current New York theater season, a cause for hope after a surfeit of microwaved revivals and ersatz musicals.
For Black Watch is a necessary reminder of the transporting power that is unique to theater. Other narrative forms . . . could tell the story that is told here. But none could summon and deploy the array of artistic tools that is used with such mastery and immediacy.
The means through which this breadth of vision is achieved are varied and seamlessly integrated . . . Every moment in Black Watch seems to bleed from the previous one in an uninterrupted river of sensations.
The stylistic range and unerring appropriateness of the choreography throughout are astonishing, from the silent tableau in which the soldiers respond to letters from home with their own stylized sign languages to the martial ballet in which the men work off their restlessness by fighting one another.
In the final marching sequence, as the men moved forward and stumbled in shifting patterns . . . it was an assembly of men who were each and every one a distinctive blend of fears and ambitions and confusion.
They were every soldier; they were also irreductibly themselves. This exquisitely sustained double vision makes Black Watch one of the most richly human works of art to have emerged from this long-lived war.
New York Times
Like the martial bagpipe solo that heralds its finale, Black Watch doesn't really resemble any of the things you'd use to explain it by way of comparison. It's both a hymn to soldiers and an indictment of the foolishness that makes their jobs necessary, shot through with odd, affecting grace notes of music and dance. And beneath it all, the low unmistakably Scottish hum that signals an inescapable call to duty.
. . . Burke and company don't reduce the play's complex problems to dramatically convenient platitudes or somnolent preaching. "I think people's minds are usually made up about you if you were in the Army," Cammy [played by Paul Rattray] frankly accuses. It's not, as he explains, a matter of being exploited by callous politicians or having no way out because you're poor. It's a matter of personal and national honor, and neither he nor anyone in his unit likes being condescended to by wealthy liberals. They want to be in the Army. They're proud of it.
That's not an attitude exclusive to the Scottish, which is perhaps why this play speaks to affectingly to an American audience. The sadness that underscores every scene comes from the knowledge that the battles have been picked by venal politicans who couldn't care less about the best interests of the soldiers fighting them.
Black Watch provides a theatrical experience not easily forgotten.
New York Post
Creative staging and an exceptionally gutsy performance style give this saga a blazing vitality.
John Tiffany's dynamic, sure-handed direction keeps the production aiming straight for its target: to relate these Scottish soldiers' experiences in Iraq vividly and with little comment other than war is hell.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger