Black Watch – review

The National Theatre of Scotland’s production Black Watch provides so much more than a story of war. Looking at friendship, loss, post-traumatic stress and the changing nature of warfare, Black Watch offers an insight into the male psyche whilst challenging our preconceptions of the Iraq War.

Black Watch 2 2013Photo: Manuel Harlan

Transforming the Haydn Morris hall at UEA’s Sportspark, designer Laura Hopkins creates a versatile set using scaffolding and projectors that seamlessly shift between the frontline in Iraq to a pub in Fife through ingenious and unexpected use of prop.

Directed by John Tiffany, the actors form an ensemble that works in beautiful harmony, creating characters that are believable, likeable and multidimensional. Gregory Burke’s script, inundated with humour and expletives, aids the sense of realness, as well as providing the production with moments of incredible poignancy.

However, it is the creative staging and use of physical theatre that make Black Watch outstanding. Steven Hoggett’s choreography allows for Scotland’s military history to be told in an innovative way. The ensemble manipulates Cammy (Stuart Martin) into various acrobatic positions, dressing him in successive Black Watch uniforms.The ‘fight scene’ must also be commended, providing an impressive display of physical strength and agility, as the robust actors perform a blend of contemporary lifts with elements of stage combat.

Black Watch 6 2013Photo: Manuel Harlan

Surprisingly, songs are interspersed with action and somehow work. Under Davey Anderson’s supervision, moments of melancholy and unity are emphasised by the tuneful voices of the cast.

Stuart Martin gives a stand out performance as Cammy, personifying the understated heroics of war, whilst Robert Jack plays the contrasting characters of the vulnerable writer and the commanding sergeant with such authenticity that it is easy to forget the actor is multi-rolling.

Although topical, the play manages to inform the audience about the Black Watch without forcing a strong political message. Despite this, a subtle anti-war agenda may be detected through the officer’s description of Iraq as “the biggest western foreign policy disaster ever.”

The only negative to the production is that if seated at the back of the auditorium, the audience may experience limited view and miss some sections when the cast sit on the floor. Overall though, the National Theatre of Scotland creates a well-balanced physical, lyrical and visceral production.

Black Watch is educational, inspiring and fully deserving of the standing ovation it received at UEA Sportspark.

Black Watch was performed in Norwich as part of the 2013 Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The rest of the Festival runs from the 10 -26 May and includes performances and activities for all age groups.


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January 2022
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