National Theatre of Scotland
Dublin Theatre Festival, RDS Shelbourne Hall
Review by Lynn Rusk
Since its multi-award winning debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006 this phenomenal work has become a cult amongst theatre goers worldwide. I was curious to see what all of the fuss was about and the experience turned out to be even better than what I expected. Black Watch is presented to Dublin audiences on a specially built stage which transforms the RDS into an intimate performance space. From my front row seat I was transported from a local Scottish pub, to the Iraqi battlefields, to the soldier's camp. With gunfire, explosions, swearing and the festive fanfare resounding in my ears throughout the entire performance I was so caught up in the action that I found it hard to believe it hadn't all been real when it ended.
The highly talented cast and crew from the National Theatre of Scotland depict the futility of war, the brotherhood amongst soldiers and the hardened attitudes of the ex-soldiers in this highly physical two hour performance. There are many aspects of Gregory Burke's work that make it entirely unique for its genre. The Scottish humour and 'get on with the job' mentality seeps through the drama and the seriousness of the situation. Burke's writing is refreshing as it is no triumphant tale of glory and there are no heroes, just a group of 'lads in a pub' that found themselves in the Black Watch regiment. The soldiers are constantly shutting out the real purpose of their mission with filthy stories, pornography and random discussions, but every so often there are nuggets of raw emotion and truth which are displayed in the highly moving movement sequences.
Every aspect of this production must be commended, particularly John Tiffany's groundbreaking directing. He manages to concoct the perfect amount of colloquialism, action, emotion with a dash of patriotism. He works well with movement co-ordinator Steven Hoggett to create perfectly executed scenes and cues. It is obvious from an audience perspective that every move is intended and has a purpose. Black Watch displays a whirlwind of adventure, gunfire and strobe lighting but it is an organised whirlwind that is performed so skilfully it is impossible to deem it not real. The very strong ten member cast display a wide range of talent from acting, to singing, to choreographed movement. They work well as a team particularly in two of the movement scenes: the profoundly moving Letters from Home sequence and the brilliantly choreographed costume scene which conveys the evolution of the battalion's costume throughout history. The multimedia and set design created by Laura Hopkins is a feast for the eyes and adds greatly to the intensity of the production.
Black Watch combines the contemporary issue of the war in Iraq with Scottish colloquialism and the dying power of the regiment. It is a work out on its own and definitely one of the best productions I have ever witnessed. It is a sin not to see it.