It was moving. Shocking. Gripping. And emotionally draining.
The National Theatre of Scotland brought their production of Black Watch to Los Angeles this month. 1. There wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to miss it. And I dragged P along so he didn’t have to be the only Perthshire accent on campus for once.
Black Watch is a masterfully crafted piece of theatre. You’re sucked in instantly: fascinated by the potty-mouthed neddish lads and their casual sexism and sexual harassment. But they soon become more than stereotypical soldier-types. The playwright, Gregory Burke, didn’t feel the need to throw in the usual human-interest wife and kids angle to get us to see these guys as fellow human beings. None of the crap that the Sun and its like put out whenever they run those “our lads in Iraq” pieces. There’s not much point in putting in some spoiler space here. After all, this is inspired by recent history. There’s no need to explain to you that the media interest in the Black Watch started with the poor timing of the announcement of their regiment’s disbandment, which coincided with its deployment in Falluja. Poor PR by Her Majesty’s government on the one hand, but without which the world would be poorer by an excellent play. If anything, the loss of the Black Watch as an independent regiment has given us the chance to hear the collective voice of the soldiers who were interviewed for this to happen.
Political statements aside, the direction was superb. The choreography was unexpected and the fighting in balletic fashion somehow made it all the more poignant without romanticising the aggression. The physical nature of the acting somehow brought home the realisation that these are people who live their lives through brawn.
Among the reviews posted on the UCLA page and echoed elsewhere on the interwebs, there are opinions that viewing Black Watch should be compulsory. I would add my voice to this. It not only helps you start to understand why some men/women (but mostly men) enlist, but also some of the disillusionment that they must feel. As said several times in different ways, the “Allied” forces in Iraq had already “won” the “war”. It’s the peacekeeping that’s killing everyone now.
Funniest line of the night: [Description of what life in mortar-filled Iraq is like] “It’s like Perth Road [in Dundee] on a Saturday night.”
Slightly awkward moment in a mainly American audience: [When the squad was ambushed and stranded] “If we were Americans, we’d have been fucking airlifted out by now.”
1 And they’re taking it to New York after this weekend. Where it joins their production of Wolves in the Walls, which is as opposite a piece of theatre as I can imagine. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy it; being based on a Gaiman and McKean collaboration.