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Black Watch the play

Just saw the review in the Torygraph looks good:.....

Dominic Cavendish reviews Black Watch at Drill Hall

It might seem premature to announce that the most compelling theatre experience of the entire Fringe has already been unveiled, but if there's a more powerful, urgent, perfectly realised piece of work than Gregory Burke's Black Watch out there, I'll undertake to run to Baghdad and back.

Creative licence: the soldiers say the war is 'about porn and petrol'
Dunfermline-born Burke, you may recall, caused quite a sensation five years ago at the Traverse with Gagarin Way, a brutally funny thriller about anti-globalisation.

This play, "an unauthorised biography of the legendary Scottish regiment", and based on interviews with former soldiers, once again catches the mood of the moment by allowing some of the toughest, most guarded men in the land to talk frankly, freely - and often filthily - about the disillusionment of their time in Iraq.

Drolly showing his own civilian self (played by Paul Rattray) nervously firing off questions to half a dozen mistrustful and at times menacing ex-squaddies, Burke betrays a refreshing concern not to let things get too worthy.

The gallows' humour of fatigued military men has been captured with greater sharpness than most TV crews could muster: life at the hellish Camp Dogwood is blithely compared to "Perth Road [Dundee] on a Saturday night"; the mission cynically summed up as being "about porn and petrol".

Impartial though the piece is, Burke and director John Tiffany know that to get under their subjects' battle-hardened skin, you also need to be as daring as they are.

Hence, in complement to Davey Anderson's rousing reworkings of old marching songs, physical theatre expert Steven Hoggett has been drafted in to help fill the vast university Drill Hall with tightly choreographed athletic activity. It's like watching a 10-man Tattoo, only there's more room for emotionally expressive manoeuvre.

As the action zips between group interviews in Scotland and the hot, hate-filled reality of Iraq, you're constantly ambushed by the creative team's ingenuity.

An overturned pool table is used to suggest a cramped personnel carrier. One of the soldiers (Brian Ferguson's Cammy) becomes a whirling human mannequin, his body swathed in the different uniforms of the Black Watch down the years.

The routine of opening letters from home turns into an outbreak of private ritualised movements, poignantly eloquent of internal anguish.

Finally, unforgettably, the bloody impact of a suicide bomb is rendered in devastating slow-motion. Here, at last, is an evening that accords the UK's long-suffering soldiery some of the public respect they deserve.
Despite everyone saying what a tremendous play it is, I doubt anyone will go, the play will then be closed by its sponsors and a great fuss will be created along the line of 'Save our Scottish Play' by those ill-informed of the realities of the real world.
This was the review/article article in the Grauniad yesterday - apologies for long post but their site is via registration


For many people, there's only one thing worth seeing at the Edinburgh festival: the Military Tattoo. Perching on top of a rock watching the massed pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments march up and down in freezing wind and driving rain may not be everybody's idea of a good night out, but it sells every single ticket in advance, every year.
There is a pride in Scotland - romanticised perhaps, but a pride none the less - about our military traditions. Scotland has always provided a percentage of the British Army disproportionate to its population's size. Where does this martial culture sit alongside the shortbread-tin version of the Highlands, or the socialist glory of the former industrial areas? What is the enduring appeal of regiments like the Black Watch?

Like any military unit, the Black Watch has to carve out its own identity. It has to see itself and its members as special. It has several tactics for achieving this. Its history is drummed into recruits from the day they enter basic training. Then there's the uniforms: the kilts, and the red hackle, awarded to the Black Watch by George III in 1796, which they wear on their Tam O'Shanters. There are the Pipes and Drums, who played at John F Kennedy's funeral and tour the world. The Black Watch even has a troop, or maybe that should be troupe, of Highland dancers who are riflemen during the day and sword-dancers when the occasion demands.
There is a cachet to be had from serving in the Black Watch, the oldest Highland regiment. They call it the "Golden Thread": the connection that runs through the history of the regiment since its formation. Even today, in our supposedly fractured society, the regiment exists on a different plane. In Iraq, there were lads serving alongside their fathers. There were groups of friends from even the smallest communities: four from the former fishing village of St Monans; seven from the former mining village of High Valleyfield; dozens from Dundee and Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Perth. The army does best in those areas of the country the Ministry of Defence describes as having "settled communities". As an estate agent's euphemism, it isn't quite up there with "needs buyers with imagination", but I think we know what they're hinting at. The Army does not recruit well in London or any other big city; fighting units tend to be more at home with homogeneity than with metropolitanism or multiculturalism. Not that there aren't other nationalities in the Black Watch. There are Fijians and Zimbabweans, even a few Glaswegians. But the central core of the regiment has always been the heartland of Perthshire, Fife, Dundee and Angus.

The Black Watch is a tribe, and this has been drummed into the actors working on my play. As well as having them go on epic drinking sessions with some of the soldiers who were in Iraq, we've also employed an ex-regimental sergeant-major to drill them during rehearsals. He gave the actors the benefit of 267 years of parade ground insults and abuse, and a glimpse of the particular attention the regiment pays to those details a layman might find trivial. The exact way to wear your Tam O'Shanter. How to make your combats hang over your boots in just the right way. Mostly, though, what he taught them was pride. To take a pride in yourself and your appearance. To take a pride in what you are doing and what you represent. When the actors first mastered a piece of marching, the sergeant-major took them outside and made them march in the street: he was so proud of them he wanted other people to see them do it.

A couple of days later, one of the actors - Black Watch being his first professional job - told me that if acting doesn't work out, he thinks he might join the army for a couple of years. To me, this was indicative of the seductive nature of an institution that has refined its appeal to the male psyche's yearning for a strong identity.

The adolescent male's pursuit of identity is universal. Identity is what enables us to function in society. But the adolescent process of selecting an identity for adulthood is a tricky one. A lot of people make mistakes. They choose an identity that they, or the environment in which they live, cannot sustain.

One of the dangers the Black Watch had to face in Iraq was the threat of suicide bombers. Three of their number, along with an Iraqi interpreter, were killed during the deployment at Camp Dogwood by a suicide bomber in a car. Suicidal acts by soldiers in the field have traditionally won renown, whether it is the comrade flinging his body on to an unexploded grenade or the man who volunteers for the most dangerous mission. I suppose doing such things makes the young men feel that they are special.

Young men around the world are often limited to narrow, predetermined roles that prove more fragile and less sustainable under the pressures of growing up. Many of them find that the identities they would wish to choose for themselves aren't available when they reach adulthood. If the environment does not offer an alternative when this change confronts them, then sometimes they turn to those organisations that are adept at exploiting this need for identity.

Some of them become soldiers, some of them become religious warriors. Then they meet on the field of battle.
armchair_jihad said:
I'm going to see this next week, is any one else going?
Toying with the idea... it's getting the time off that's the bugger.

(Be nice to see the inside of the Drill Hall again, it's where I spent my first 5 years in the TA...)
armchair_jihad said:
I'm going to see this next week, is any one else going?
Are you kidding - go into town during the festival? I'll leave that to the tourists. Too many Green Meanies and other officious types from the thought police.
My advice to you both then is to leave the car at home, along with your cigarettes. Don't drink in public and observe all other stupid Edinburgh (Labour) City Council PC Byelaws.

Apart from that - have a good time.
Went to see the new play Black Watch in Edinburgh last night. It was an amazing piece of work, based on interviews and using the words of ex-soldiers.

The actors spoke with the right accents (Fife, Buchan etc) they spoke like young men, lots of Fs and Cs, their drill looked good to me, a civilian (the story goes that the ex BW sergeant who trained them was so proud when they got it right that he had them out on the street to show-off).

They had managed to create watch towers, the squaddies watching an air strike from the roof, they even managed to get the dismounts onto the top of a pool table. The door to the drill hall became the rear hatch of what they all called 'the waggon'. And there were jokes about American Marines and their body-building.

The CO ordered their last attack with 'Forward the forty second'

If you get the chance, go and see it. Pipes and highland dancing, history and jokes, pride and sadness.

It would be hard to put it on as a TV show because of the huge amount of swearing and rude jokes/one-liners. So I hope they put the show on again.


edited to add extracts from Evening Times review

It is powerful stuff. And what makes it even more powerful, is that he uses the soldiers' very own words. Verbatim. It tells how Cammy (Brian Ferguson), an ex-soldier with the Black Watch, is contacted by a researcher and how he persuades a group of his fellow ex-soldiers to meet up with Burke, and how they tell him what it was like.

These could be any group of six pals enjoying a Sunday session down the pub.

All through the play, it comes back to this group, portrayed with utter realism by a fantastic cast who do not miss a single beat throughout.

By transposing their reactions to Burke's questions with scenes from their Army life, he succeeds in saying much more than the mere words.

But mostly, this is about young Scots and what they do. The banter, the tricks, the relationships between the men, their sergeant (Paul Higgins) and the officer (Peter Forbes), how the new recruits like Kenzie (Ryan Fletcher) react to those, like Fraz (Emun Eliot), who are serving a second tour in Iraq.

There's politics in there too. The politics of the Black Watch being subsumed into a bigger force in the Army. The politics of sending them to war in Iraq in the first place. The politics of fighting an enemy which employs suicide bombs in its arsenal.

And there's the golden thread history. In a scene of breathtaking precision, Cammy talks and walks through the Black Watch's history as he is dressed and undressed in the uniforms which it has worn over the years.
I have just seen it as well though it was not easy, it is SO sold out I actually had to buy mine off a ticket tout (for a fringe play!!!). It is simply brilliant as Scouting for Boys says, all of the luvvies think that its fab and the hottest theatre ticket in the Country. I read today in the Sunday Times that its going on National tour (so go and see it) & the BBC are looking at doing a TV version - simply filming a preformance.

If anything can start getting the public behind the Army and highlighting the utter (reversable) bullshit of the loss of so many fine Regiments is this play

All ARRSERS should make a real effort to see this play.
Scouting for boys review


I have just seen it as well though it was not easy, it is SO sold out I actually had to buy mine off a ticket tout (for a fringe play!!!). It is simply brilliant as Scouting for Boys says, all of the luvvies think that its fab and the hottest theatre ticket in the Country. I read today in the Sunday Times that its going on National tour (so go and see it) & the BBC are looking at doing a TV version - simply filming a preformance.

If anything can start getting the public behind the Army and highlighting the utter (reversable) bullshit of the loss of so many fine Regiments is this play

All ARRSERS should make a real effort to see this play.
Don't know about the Luvvies not getting it, for my sins I am staying up here with a bunch of highend ones, the play made such an impact that they have got their assistants to start researching. They are talking about a 'forgotten' culture having been revealed by the play, these people do watch the mood of the nation closely as its how they make money (a great deal) if they think there is milage in Black Watch and other plays films etc. portraying the Army in a positive light then it shall be so. The old 'green bad, red good' arguements are hackneyed and have no relevance to todays world.

Black Watch could well be the start of something very interesting.

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