Black Watch


You know those moments when it just makes sense, when you’ve stumbled upon the thing that breathes life into your universe, the very thought of it can raise the little hairs on your arm and send a jolt like electricity through you.  These moments are small,  often quiet, and a bit contained, they are remembered because they are perfectly ordinary, but then again, maybe not so ordinary at all. 

The lights above illuminate the thin haze of smoke and dust as it begins to settle onto the stage.  Our small group makes its way down the steps of  Sidney Harman Hall to the front of the house.  There are a few members of the crew scattered about the theatre, but for the most part it’s empty.  We’ve been invited to preview The Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s current production of Black Watch.  As I take my seat I look down, the stage is level with the floor of the auditorium, I look up into the fly space, exposed to the audience, expansive and a bit jarring, I look out across the stage where a block of empty seats stare back at me, I watch the dust float under the lights, and I pause. That’s the moment.  Surrounded by the world created inside of this theatre.

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I love watching dress rehearsal, I even love watching tech rehearsals, probably because I am not the one rehearsing them.  There’s a feeling of being let in on a some sort of a secret, an anticipation of seeing the creative process in action.  I had the same feeling as I entered that theatre.  No, we were not watching a full dress rehearsal run through, but we were being shown two scenes of a production that had not yet opened.  My little theatre heart could hardly contain itself.  This would be my first time in an STC space since they were awarded the Regional Theatre Tony Award in June.  I must say I was quite proud of our DC theatre that night, and I was looking for an excuse to see one of their upcoming productions.  So when STC invited me to preview Black Watch, and not only allowed, but asked us to snap photos and video a few scenes, I was all aboard and let’s get going.

Viewed through the eyes of those on the ground, Black Watch reveals what it means to be part of the legendary Scottish regiment, what it means to be part of the war on terror and what it means to make the journey home again. John Tiffany’s production makes powerful and inventive use of movement, music and song to create a visceral, complex and urgent piece of theatre that is as relevant now as ever. (Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Presented by The National Theatre of Scotland, Black Watch has returned to DC after a sold out run at Sidney Harman Hall in 2011.  The story was drawn from interviews conducted by Gregory Burke with soldiers in the Black Watch regiment who served in Iraq.  Black Watch is directed by John Tiffany who recently won the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical.

So basically I was invited by a Tony award winning theatre company to watch a production by a Tony award winning director.  Needless to say I was eagerly anticipating what was in store for us.  Tiffany stood on stage and explained they would be performing two scenes.

The first scene, a red carpet runway of sorts, took us on a journey through the evolution of the Scottish Black Watch military uniform.  As Cammy (Ryan Fletcher) is hoisted into the air by four soldiers, and two others quickly remove and replace pieces of uniform, we are told the story of the Black Watch regiment.  Where it began, why it persisted, and how it came to find it’s soldiers in one of the most dangerous regions of an American War.  The staging is spot on and the costume changes, I think there are about 16 in this one scene alone, give us a visual connection to the story.  As the lights were brought back up, my first thought was “Can we just keep going.” takes out phone, marks calendar for next available open evening.


The second scene, inserts a bit of humour into the show.  The soldiers, back from Iraq are discussing who will play them in the movie adaptation of their story.  A writer has been interviewing them about their deployment in Iraq, and they want to ensure that they are accurately portrayed, it seems Ewan McGregor is just the man for the job.  Finding relief in the seriousness of their stories, perhaps?  It’s a hard topic on any front, but from what I saw it seems that Burke and Tiffany have done an excellent job of telling this story.  I will most definitely be catching it, in full, before it closes on October 7.

For social media folk out there October 4 is a Twitter night, Shakespeare Theatre will be hosting conversations online before and after the performance #STCnight.

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We had some time before being let into the theatre and so I started reading through our press kit materials which included an article written by Nicholas J. Cull “The National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch: Theatre as Cultural Diplomacy”  It’s not often that an article by an academic is included in a production press kit, but I had some time to kill so I set about reading it.  Its actually really interesting.  It walks you through the creation of Black Watch the stage production in the context of cultural diplomacy within the theatre as a whole.

There are so many details that were included in the conception of this production down to the configuration of the seats within the theatre.  I mentioned that there was seating on the other side of the stage.  The set is designed to mimic the armory near Edinburgh castle, where Black Watch first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe.  The armory is home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, a parade performance of the Scottish Military, a source of pride in Scotland.  At first wary of the Tattoo, Tiffany ultimately decided that this armory-like arrangement within the theatre would re-inforce this sense of Scottish tradition and pride.  As an audience member the un-traditional configuration only enhances the uniqueness of the production.


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