Black Watch (play)
|Written by||Gregory Burke|
|Place premiered||Edinburgh festival|
|Original language||English, Scottish|
|Subject||The Black Watch Regiment in Iraq 2004|
Based on interviews with former soldiers, it portrays soldiers in the Black Watch regiment of the British Army serving on Operation TELIC in Iraq during 2004, prior to the amalgamation into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Black Watch was first performed during the Edinburgh Festival on 1 August 2006 in a temporary Traverse stage at the former University of Edinburgh Officer Training Corps' Drill hall.
Well received by critics, Black Watch has won four Olivier Awards including Best New Play. It has also won a Herald Angel, The Scotsman Fringe First, a Best Theatre Writing Award from The List, a Stage Award for Best Ensemble, the South Bank Show award for Theatre and four CATS.
The Black Watch regiment is based in Fife and the Tayside region in Scotland, and the army has been a part of their lives for generations. Their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, have been soldiers in the regiment - a regiment that has been involved in virtually every major conflict since it was formed as the Gallant Forty Twa in 1739. "It's in the blood. It's part of who we are."
In October 2004, the Black Watch was at the centre of political controversy after the United States Army requested British forces to be moved further north outside of the British-controlled Multi-National Division (South East), in order to replace forces temporarily redeployed for the Second Battle of Fallujah.
Despite objections in Parliament, the deployment went ahead. Based at Camp Dogwood, located between Fallujah and Karbala, in an area later dubbed the "Triangle of Death", the Black Watch came under sustained insurgent attack from mortars and rockets. On 4 November three soldiers and an interpreter were killed by a car bomb at a check point. The high profile nature of the deployment caused a magnification of these deaths back home in Britain. On 16 December 2004, the controversy surrounding the Black Watch was further heightened by the official announcement that the regiment was to be amalgamated with the other regiments in the Scottish Division to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The then Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, was accused by the SNP of "stabbing the soldiers in the back" and being motivated purely by political and administrative concerns, with little regard to the effect on morale.
Cast and productions
Other cast members have included: Tom Smith (Sergeant/ Writer - 2007 Scottish tour), Jack Fortune (Officer - 2007-2008), Henry Pettigrew (Rossco, 2007-2008) and Jack Lowden (Cammy, 2011).
Productions have included the following:
- 2006 - Edinburgh Festival
- 2007 - Pitlochry, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dumfries, Dingwall, Edinburgh, Los Angeles, New York City, Sydney
- 2008 - Perth, Western Australia, Wellington, Glenrothes, Glasgow, Coventry, Salford, Blaenau Gwent, Norfolk, Virginia, Toronto, London, Dublin, New York City
- 2010 - Glasgow
- 2011 - London, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Belfast, Washington, D.C., Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Chicago, New York City
- 2012 - Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seoul
- 2013 - Norfolk and Norwich Festival
- Salute to the Commonwealth - The Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland
- Spitting Games - Snow Patrol
- First Sleep - Cliff Martinez
- Gallant Forty Twa - Traditional, arr. Davey Anderson
- Selection - The Black Watch Pipes and Drums
- Forfar Sodgar - Traditional, arr. Davey Anderson
- Farewell to Nigg - Shooglenifty
- Summer 78 - Yann Tiersen
- Twa Recruiting Sergeants - Traditional, arr. Davey Anderson
- Maybe You’re My Puppet - Cliff Martinez
- Last Days - Max Richter
- A Thearlaich Òig (Oh Young Charles Stewart) - Margaret Bennett & Martyn Bennett
- Flowers of the Forest - Traditional, arr. Davey Anderson
- Black Bear - Traditional, arr. Davey Anderson
"They were every soldier; they were also irreducibly themselves. This exquisitely sustained double vision makes Black Watch one of the most richly human works of art to have emerged from this long-lived war" The New York Times
"Rarely has the torpor, the tension, the nerve-shattering randomness of this conflict's violence been made so agonizingly real - in real time. Black Watch is like a dose of caffeine delivered directly to the bloodstream." The Washington Post
"Black Watch is an astonishing artistic whirlwind. The world must see this play. Immediately." The Herald
"Brimming with breathtaking theatricality, inventiveness, style, thought provoking intelligence, humour and heart…an unmissable piece of theatre." Metro
"A mature and complex piece of political theatre – fierce, passionate and unguarded." The Guardian
"Few will come away untouched by this thrilling, raw, challenging and masterful piece of work" The Times
"Black Watch is a glorious piece of theatre, raw, truthful, uncomfortable, political funny, moving, graceful and dynamic" Scotland on Sunday
" A magnificent piece of social and political theatre, a high point not just of the festival but of the theatrical year" The Observer
James Denselow (The Guardian):
Theatre provides a more intimate and visceral space to examine war, and it is excellently filled by Gregory Burke's superb Black Watch, currently showing at the Barbican in London. It tells the story of the famous Scottish regiment, "on the ground" in Camp Dogwood in 2004 and in doing so provides a reminder of the distance between those who fight our wars and those back home who try to understand them.
Iraq is a war detached and buffered in numerous ways from its domestic constituency back in the UK. Financially we've not been affected (Joseph Stiglitz explained how the entire war was "fought on credit") and having a professional army has meant that our society has not been faced by the traumas of conscription. Our soldiers alone understand the horrors of the conflict and the reasons for being there ("porn an petrol" says one officer). At one point in Black Watch when a reporter asks a former soldier about his experience, the soldier threatens to break his arm. Why? "If he wants tae ken aboot Iraq, he hiz tae feel some pain."
In the play Iraq itself has become a catalyst for both the rejection of war back home and for the Black Watch "tribe" to learn about the pain of loss of friends. The "golden thread" of regimental history is also a presence, with the story set as the Black Watch is being merged into a Scottish "super-regiment". Where do the Iraqis fit in to all this? When asked about their interactions with the population a soldier reacts with surprise: "Whit the fuck hiv the Iraqis got tae fuckin dae wi anythin?"
Black Watch is fuelled by a relentless energy that is a potent reminder of the prime of life, so quickly transformed into death, severe physical or mental injury. It is also a reminder of the great distance between the British population and the wars fought in its name.
A DVD recording of the play, including the BBC Scotland documentary Black Watch: A Soldier's Story, was released in October 2008. It won in the international category in the 2008 Prix Circom Regional Programme Awards.
- "Black Watch | Main | National Theatre of Scotland". Nationaltheatrescotland.com. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- "UK | Scotland | Tayside and Central | Black Watch play tops awards list". BBC News. 2007-05-13. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- Thom Dibdin (2006-08-10). "The Stage / Reviews / Black Watch". Thestage.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- Olivier Awards guardian.co.uk
- "BBC RELEASE BLACK WATCH DVD AND DOCUMENTARY". Nationaltheatrescotland.com. 2008-10-10. Retrieved 2010-10-01.
- Croatia (2010-02-10). "Prix Circom 2008". Circom-regional.eu. Retrieved 2010-10-01.