Review: Black Watch, University of Edinburgh Drill Hall




 It has always been too simplistic to write off political theatre as the theatre of the left. As if to prove it, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is a sophisticated right-wing play.

   A verbatim drama based upon playwright Gregory Burke’s interviews with members of the former Black Watch regiment who served in the on-going conflict in Iraq, it is anti-war, but certainly not anti-militarist. Time and again, it exhibits its sympathy with the view, expressed by an officer in the play, that 300 years of proud regimental history could be destroyed in three years by the Blair administration’s adventure in Iraq. It is a position which could easily be endorsed by anti-war Tory grandees such as Malcolm Rifkind and Kenneth Clarke.

   Regardless of its politics, Black Watch is a good play in many ways. It stands head and shoulders above other verbatim dramas, such as David Hare’s anti-rail privatisation piece The Permanent Way.

   Not only does it open with a fantastically funny gag about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but Burke has forged genuinely dramatic scenes both from his meetings with the soldiers and from their experiences in Iraq. Consequently, his play has more humour, vitality and tension than the average verbatim work.

   Director John Tiffany gets fine performances out of a universally impressive cast, and creates real moments of visual spectacle, and one notable image of genuine horror. However, even this superior piece of verbatim drama becomes hampered by its need to insert self-consciously theatrical devices to balance against its moments of explication and description.

   Tiffany and movement director Steven Hoggett have come up with some truly risible choreography. A painfully over-stretched fight scene and the all-dancing conclusion are typical of an awkward physical element which is like a lead weight around the ankles of an otherwise successful production.

An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Herald in August 2006


© Mark Brown


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