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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 26, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 17
Collateral damage - Black Watch tells timeless truths about war and humanity
Arts & Entertainment
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Collateral damage - Black Watch tells timeless truths about war and humanity

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

BLACK WATCH
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
April 25 - May 5


Everyone who has seen a production, anywhere, of Black Watch, an intense production based on interviews with Scottish servicemen who served in Iraq (by the National Theatre of Scotland), has said it's amazing and not-to-be-missed. It's been seen in New York City and Chicago, besides all over Europe. We have a unique opportunity to see it for ourselves as it arrives at the Paramount Theatre for a two-weekend stay.

The press release says, 'Hurtling from a poolroom in Fife to an armored wagon in Iraq, Black Watch is based on interviews conducted by Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in Iraq. Viewed through the eyes of those on the ground, Black Watch reveals what it means to be part of the legendary Scottish regiment, what it means to be part of the war on terror, and what it means to make the journey home again. John Tiffany's production makes powerful and inventive use of movement, music, and song to create a visceral, complex, and urgent piece of theater.'

COALITION PARTNER
Black Watch is the name of the Scottish brigade whose existence is hundreds of years old - the brigade that Scotland sent to be part of the 'coalition' forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Not only did the American public not hear much from its own soldiers in Iraq, it heard virtually nothing from those of other coalition members. This is an opportunity to hear that unique perspective.

In an exchange with the writer, Gregory Burke, SGN got a glimpse into the writing process. Burke had a series of interviews with members of Black Watch in a pub. The interviews were not easy to obtain, which is part of what is portrayed on stage. Burke describes that, before rehearsals began, 'the script was all written. Rehearsals were about how we put together those scenes that were in Iraq and the scenes when they were at home in the pub.

'There were a series of historical scenes that I had written which were all condensed and turned into the parade scene. Also, John [Tiffany, director] and Steven [Hoggett, movement] had to find a nonverbal language in order to portray the emotions of the soldiers. Like most working-class males, they weren't forthcoming with their emotions.'

Burke says that when they conceived of the piece, in 2004, they didn't really know how they were going to stage it. 'I don't think any of the creative team had any idea about how the play was going to turn out. I only wanted to reflect the experiences of the soldiers. I think the military is quite a theatrical institution anyway. The clothes, the music, etc. ... What was a surprise was how easily it lent itself to making a theater piece from it.'

'WRITING IS POLITICAL'
Burke's plays are often wickedly funny, and also often based on very topical or 'political' subjects. Battery Farm deals with the elderly and who is taking care of them; Debt focuses on the pile of debt many create by bad habits or out of necessity.

Asked about his writing, Burke says, 'I don't really think of myself as a political writer, but it does seem to be where I have ended up. Writing is political. Whatever you write, you are making choices about the stories you tell about the world. Personally, I have always wanted to write a movie where someone walks into a situation room and says, 'Gentlemen, we have a situation here.'

Burke feels pleasure that Black Watch is still running and still producing positive reaction, and he feels it's making a difference in awareness. 'It's just a shame it's still relevant,' he says. 'But then, a piece like this is always relevant. Powerful nations have always bullied weaker nations throughout history.'

He doesn't think there is any gap in understanding between American audiences and European ones. 'American audiences get it. Soldiers are soldiers. War is war. All that's different is that the other armies have different kits.'

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
There is a stern warning accompanying the advertisements for Black Watch: it's an hour and 50 minutes long, and if you need to leave, you'll be escorted out with no option to return. Also, age 16+ is advised, and there is no late seating! The Paramount is reconfiguring its seating from the normal 3,000 seats to 400 in a gallery-like, two-sided format to accommodate this unique production, so tickets may be at a premium. For more information, go to www.stgpresents.org or call (206) 682-1414.

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