In 2008, the first time the National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch
(originally seen in Scotland in 2006) played in London it was a hot ticket - so hot I had to miss it as it sold out. Two years on it returns to the Barbican with a new cast and I made sure to book as soon as I heard it was coming back. This also meant Andy and I had front-row seats, which certainly adds something in a show as frenetic as this. As with the 2008 Cheek By Jowl Troilus and Cressida
, the Barbican Theatre's been reconfigured into traverse for this show. The Black Watch is a historic Scottish regiment that has existed since the early 18th century. We follow a few modern-day soldiers who've come back from Iraq and who take us back to their experiences there.
Of course, the politics behind the war are explored here but it isn't the main concern. Instead the show tries to give as much of a picture of the soldiers' real lives in combat as possible. Between them writer Gregory Burke, director John Tiffany, sound director Davey Anderson and movement director Steven Hoggett have done this in what has since become the company's signature style: Naturalism frequently giving way to extended dance or movement sequences and traditional-style Celtic songs. An excellent cast bring you into the worlds both of combat and of their lives once they've returned home. I'm finding this a surprisingly difficult show to describe as, despite packing an emotional punch, it's the physical experience that most stands out. In the front row there were a couple of moments when we thought some of the actors were going to fall onto us (given how hot the cast is I wouldn't have exactly minded) and right at the end I thought I was going to get kicked in the face (I would
have minded) as a wordless marching sequence brings things to a close.
My only slight gripe is that the show is framed by a writer interviewing the soldiers in the pub, in order to produce this very show. A perfectly valid device but one I feel like I've seen too many times recently. And probably unfair to level it at a show originally seen in 2006, before last year when David Hare took the framing device and then skipped the bit where he bothered writing a play
so this may well be why I'm so fed up with this storytelling option. That's really a very small point to level at it then, which shows how impressive the show is - it got a deserved standing ovation, in a year when audiences seem generally to have been very unwilling to get to their feet.Black Watch
by Gregory Burke is booking until the 22nd of January at the Barbican Theatre.