The award-winning example of verbatim theatre is 'a story that needs to be told'
Four years after it opened to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival, and following an international tour that has taken the play from New York to New Zealand, Black Watch finally comes to Belfast, and not before time.
Written by Gregory Burke and based on interviews with former soldiers from the Black Watch regiment about their experiences in Iraq, the play offers a unique insight into the views, opinions and feelings of a group of men at the heart of a nation going to war: the soldiers themselves.
Director John Tiffany’s clever minimalist set evokes an informal military environment, with seating in Belfast's Girls Model School banked on either side and framed by scaffolding towers. The play moves effortlessly between a Fife pub to the sweltering heat of Iraq.
Black Watch is celebrating the history, pride and tradition of the regiment: from 1739 to the present. The importance of this lineage is illuminated within socio-economic parameters that are relevant to the working class soldiers, who see the army as a profession that has outlived mining and shipbuilding.
Visually the production works well and the cast of ten deliver a tight performance. The colour red has particular sumbolism throughout, from the intense red of the hackle worn by the soldiers to an opening sequence where the squaddies are resurrected by a hand, followed by several bodies in combat fatigues, who rip through the red surface of a pool table.
Black Watch pulls together the elements of gritty, no holds barred language, intensely physical choreography, military music, video and mime. It's all incredibly adventurous and effective.
One of the most powerful scenes is the hypnotic sequence where, to intensifying music, the soldiers respond to letters from family and loved ones in sign language, trying to convey their pain in forms other than words and unable to communicate with each other or express their inner turmoil.
In 2004, 800 men from the 42nd were sent to the 'triangle of death' in Fallujah to replace 4,000 US marines. At the same time it was announced that the Black Watch regiment was to be amalgamated with five others. Ian Pirie, playing the officer, sums up the feelings of the squaddies when he observes that it may have taken 300 years to build this globally respected unit, 'but it only takes three years pissing about in the desert in the biggest western foreign policy disaster ever to f**k it up completely'.
We all had views on the Iraq war and this is why this production works so well: because the audience are as passionate about the subject matter as the squaddies interviewed. This is a political piece that captures living history, a story that needs to be told.