Black Watch was recommended to me by a friend at work, who swore it was the best piece of theatre she had ever seen. After that bold statement I couldn’t resist going to experience it for myself.
The Black Watch is an esteemed army infantry battalion from the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Their obscure name allegedly came from the dark tartan they used to wear to watch over the Highlands. This regiment has an important history which is explored within the action of the play, a truly fascinating timeline. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in which we watched one soldier being dressed and undressed continually by all the other men to display the regiment’s changing uniform over time. It was quite beautiful demonstrated in this way.
The music that occurs intermittently throughout the show is haunting and moving: various clips of Snow Patrol and Michael Nyman as well as authentic regimental songs are cleverly used. And then of course there are the constant sounds of mortars, IEDs and C-bombs. Often the men sing enthusiastically along to the tunes, with an endearing pride. The language is crude even filthy throughout, and yet it soon feels natural to hear the men speaking in this way. There is an element of dance in this production too, although it is more like atmospheric abstract movement. Violence is shown through stylised miming that is quite balletic, a dramatic juxtaposition with the hard army demeanour.
The narrative focuses on the Black Watch’s involvement in Iraq. Jack Lowden is superb as Cammy, he is devoted and yet understandably bitter. Jamie Quinn is sweet playing Fraz, a strangely evocative performance as a less fortunate soldier. The rest of the all male cast are similarly commendable, and as a whole create a powerful and intense piece of theatre.
I forgot these men are actors, I completely believed, for the 110 minutes that Black Watch runs that the men were soldiers. The Black Watch is known for its exceptionally strong sense of identity and camaraderie, a mindset that is portrayed immaculately by the boys on stage.
Many nights are already sold out, so be quick about getting your tickets for Black Watch, this is a play not to miss.
Black Watch, at the Barbican Arts Centre, until 22nd January. Tickets £35/40