Black Watch - Theatre Review

Life for young soldiers in Iraq is thrown into stark relief as the National Theatre of Scotland’s award winning production BLACK WATCH returns to the Barbican

THE NATIONAL Theatre of Scotland’s production of Black Watch returns to the Barbican after its sell-out run in 2008, having since garnered a hearty trophy cabinet full of awards both at home and internationally.

The play exposes us to the experiences of eight young members of the Black Watch regiment, who are ordered into Iraq to support US troops in Fallujah. The play hurtles between a pub in Fife in the aftermath of war and frontline action.

Staged in traverse (two banks of seating facing each other with the playing space cut through the middle) with skilful light and sound design, the audience is plunged head-long into the battle.

No attempt is made to hide from us the many realities of a soldier’s life -the play is rife with swearing and sexual references - and when three members of the regiment are killed by a suicide bomber it is hard not to feel like you shouldn’t be watching.

Director John Tiffany and movement director Steve Hoggett, one half of Frantic Assembly, have clearly drilled these actors to within an inch of their lives, and the sense of camaraderie and ensemble is as strong as I have ever seen it.

The highly commendable result is the sensation that you are watching soldiers who have learned how to act, rather than recent drama school graduates “playing war”. Song and movement are deftly woven into the play and highlight Scotland’s cultural traditions.

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Black Watch feels less like a piece of theatre than an expos�. Young men, whose lives were in the hands of British and US policy makers, fighting not for their country or their forbears but for their mates, for Black Watch.

Powerful, moving and somewhat disconcerting, I urge you to see it.

* Showing at the Barbican in Silk Street, EC2 until Saturday, January 22