Black Watch

Gregory Burke
National Theatre of Scotland
John Williams Productions DVD £19.99
(2008)

I missed it in Edinburgh (one if the "joys" of being editor is that you have to let your reviewers pick what they want before you get to choose your own shows!) and it hasn't come anywhere near where I live, so, having heard such enthusiasm about the National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch, when the DVD became available I exercised my editorial jus primae noctis and decided I would be the one to review it.

There's an old joke about sucking sweets with the paper still on and that is rather how I felt at the end of watching the DVD. I was wanting to be there the whole time. I could see how it would have affected me, how it would suck me into the emotional maelstrom that the play and the production create, but I felt on the outside all the time. Someone else was making the decisions about what I should be looking at, and that was especially galling in the scenes that take up the whole space of the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall, Inverness-shire, where it was filmed during a performance in 2007. There were times when I wanted to see the whole scene at once, but of course in the brief moments that the TV director allowed, the figures were too small to make out clearly. And yet when the camera focuses on one or two people - even though that focus might shift frequently, which, of course, is what happens in the theatre - you feel you are losing out. That was particularly the case in the Letters from Home sequence.

Indeed, it is true of all Steven Hoggett's carefully choreographed movement. I kept thinking, "I wish I was there!"

The close-ups were a different matter, of course, but I'm not sure that they made that much difference, for the acting is for the audience, not the camera.

I suppose that what I am saying is that a filmed performance of a stage play will always be less satisfying than actually being there. I should imagine that, for those who have seen the production live, the DVD will act as a wonderful reminder of a powerful theatrical experience, but for those of us for whom the DVD is the only way of experiencing Black Watch, it is rather a frustrating experience.

But having said that, I'm glad I saw it. Black Watch is clearly a significant moment in the history of British (and particularly Scottish) theatre and it is better to have seen it, as it were, at second hand, than not to have seen it at all.

>> Philip Fisher looks at the accompanying documentary Black Watch: A Soldier's Story (BBC Scotland)

Reviewer: Peter Lathan