Black Watch review at University of Edinburgh Drill Hall

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Bursting across the stage with assurance and vitality, Gregory Burke’s unofficial history of the Black Watch regiment is compelling stuff.

Constructing the play from verbatim accounts of life during the war in Iraq, Burke uses his actual garnering of those accounts from ex-soldiers to frame the scenes in the warzone.

It is a technique which allows director John Tiffany to form the characters of the core half-dozen in the relatively familiar surroundings of a bar, before putting them into the desert. Moving back and forth between the two situations only serves to heighten the understanding of these men and what they are doing.

Burke has the sense to neither attempt to be an apologist for war not a campaigner against it. His skill is to create a set of utterly believable characters and look not so much at the whys and wherefores of their joining the army but the plain facts of life in uniform and the relationships these men had – and have – with each other.

Led by Brian Ferguson as Cammy, with whom Burke first made contact, and going right through the ten-strong cast, this is superbly acted. Starting from their creation of lads down the pub, to their actions under fire, in the boredom of desert life and right on to their drill and the odd, perfectly choreographed surreal moment of unison movement, this is a company which does not step one millimetre out of line.

The technical side of the production is near impeccable too. The Drill Hall setting helps set the mood. Laura Hopkins’ set design uses the edges of the space to hint at what lies beyond. Thunderous sound design by Gareth Fry and cleverly constructed lighting design from Colin Grenfell only helps.

Jessica Brettle’s costumes serve their purpose both at home and abroad. But she comes into her own during a set-piece scene when Cammy recounts the history of the regiment, drawn exclusively from Fife and Tayside, while the rest of the cast cloth him in a succession of the uniforms they have worn over the years.

Confident and hard-hitting which has the guts to entertain and provoke in equal measure.

Production Information

University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, August 5-27

Gregory Burke
John Tiffany
National Theatre of Scotland
Brian Ferguson, Peter Forbes, Paul Higgins, Emun Elliott, Jordan Young, Ali Craig
Running time
1hr 50mins