Black Watch

Gregory Burke
National Theatre of Scotland
Traverse 4, The University of Edinburgh Drill Hall

Black Watch Credit: National Theatre of Scotland

This should really be a 6* play. This is not to show disrespect to those must-see shows that get the top score but to recognise that if one sees one new show as good as Black Watch in a year that is cause to feel joy

Black Watch also sees the coming of age of the infant National Theatre of Scotland, co-producers with the Traverse, and a victory for the whole team there led by Vicky Featherstone and the director of this play, John Tiffany.

Every critic in town is talking enthusiastically about this very Scottish play about a regiment with a 300-year history but no future, Far more though, this is an all-embracing view of what it means to fight in Iraq today.

This play has everything. It combines the best qualities of a multi-layered novel, an action movie, the songs and movement of musicals, the analysis of TV documentaries and the ubiquitous "Experience" so popular in museums.

After a breakneck run through the history of the Black Watch, measured in battles won and costumes worn, the main focus is on a small group of serving soldiers. They are interviewed by a researcher for a play, played by Paul Higgins who also transforms into their hard-nosed sergeant

These men have all left the "Gallant Forty Twa" after the horrors of life in Iraq. These are brought to chilling life for an audience seated in traverse in an old Drill Hall.

The sights and sounds of war can never have been so realistically portrayed away from a battlefield and most audience members will feel numbed and shocked long before the end.

This is thanks to a brilliant soundscape from Gareth Fry, accompanying a well-balanced structure which mixes the politics of war with the humanity of the soldiers and tradition of a regiment that still has men whose families have served for generations. These are nicely spoken for in contrasting voices by an upper-class officer played by Peter Forbes and the salt of the earth Tommy, Brian Ferguson's Cammie Campbell.

They are part of John Tiffany's well-drilled team both on and off stage, who maintain pace throughout and look the part, thanks inter alia to movement expert, Steven Hoggett from Frantic Assembly.

This ambitious play must surely tour after its four weeks on the Fringe and has the scope to make a fine anti-war movie too. Tickets will not be easy to obtain but the effort will be richly rewarded.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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