National Theatre of Scotland, Black Watch

Review in Issue 20-4 | Winter 2008

The much-heralded Black Watch is a cleverly constructed piece of ‘total theatre’ Directed by John Tiffany, it has a script (by acclaimed Scottish playwright Gregory Burke) worked up from interviews with young soldiers who have served in Iraq. With choreography by Frantic Assembly’s Steven Hoggett, it is beautifully staged, and performed with gusto.

I loved a lot of things, particularly Hoggett’s beautiful movement work, and the traditional regimental songs, sung with great heart. Good scenography: the scaffolding set used to denote different times/other spaces; screens running 24-hour news broadcasts; a row of lockers used to great effect for costume changes; and there’s a gorgeous moment early on when the transformation from Fife pub to Iraqi desert happens with a sudden ripping of a pool table and the emergence from below of suited, booted and armed soldiers.

But I felt uneasy throughout and left with a bad taste in my mouth. So what’s my problem? The sexism and homophobia for a start. Yes, these are soldiers – but there was no racism (beyond a timid reference here and there, say to ‘Chinky’ food) – a contemporary audience (rightly) wouldn’t tolerate onstage racism, yet it’s acceptable for women and gays to be denigrated?

And there is this terrible lie that informs the whole piece: that there is a noble history of soldiering; that this Iraqi business is somehow not real war, but a political quest. Black Watch ultimately buys into the glorification of war, which I suppose is why it made me angry.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jun 2008

This article in the magazine

Issue 20-4
p. 37