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“Black Watch” Is Visceral, Complex, and Urgent

Iraq war drama "Black Watch" opens Feb. 9th

Scottish Iraq war drama "Black Watch" opens Feb. 9th

Carolina Performing Arts will present the National Theatre of Scotland’s eye-opening production of Black Watch, a critically acclaimed Iraq war play written by Scottish dramatist Gregory Burke and directed by fellow Scot John Tiffany, on Feb. 9-13 in Memorial Hall, on Cameron Ave., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All the UNC performances of this provocative play, which is premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival, are SOLD OUT.

According to Carolina Performing Arts:

“For Black Watch, the sensation of the New York theater scene and the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Carolina Performing Arts staff will work with the company to build a customized space, with audiences surrounding the performers on stage.

“‘Black Watch is as significant today as it was in 2007,’ [UNC executive director for the arts Emil] Kang said. ‘The play is an exploration of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and its impact on the 10 characters onstage as told by members of the elite Scottish regiment known as the Black Watch.'”

The Black Watch marketing pack adds:

“Since its very first performances, Black Watch has received standing ovations and enjoyed sold-out performances everywhere it has appeared, nationally and internationally.

“Hurtling from a pool room in Fife to an armoured wagon in Iraq, Black Watch is based on interviews conducted by [playwright] 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.

“[Director] John Tiffany’s production makes powerful and inventive use of movement, music and song to create a visceral, complex and urgent piece of theatre that is as relevant in 2010 as ever.

Black Watch has played to tens of thousands of people across three continents and has garnered 22 awards. Most recently, the production won four Laurence Olivier Awards — Best Director, Best Theatre Choreography, Best Play, and Best Sound Design — and the National Theatre of Scotland won its first U.S. award with the New York Drama Critics’ Circle naming Black Watch Best Foreign Play [of the 2008-09 season].”

Black Watch stars Scott Fletcher as Kenzie, Chris Starkie as Stewarty, Jamie Quinn as Fraz, Ian Pirie as an Officer and Lord Elgin, Richard Rankin as Granty, Paul Higgins as Writer and Sergeant, Ross Anderson as Rosco, Jack Lowden as Cammy, Stuart Martin as Nabsy, and Cameron Barnes as Macca. Understudies include Adam McNamara and Paul Tinto.

In addition to dramatist Gregory Burke and director John Tiffany, the National Theatre of Scotland’s creative team for Black Watch includes movement director Steven Hoggett, musical director Davey Anderson, staff director Joe Douglas, set designer Laura Hopkins, lighting designer Colin Grenfell, costume designer Jessica Brettle, sound designer Gareth Fry, video designers Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer (59Ltd).

Critical acclaim for Black Watch includes the following:

  • The News of the World (London) raves: “Like the Iraq War itself, the National Theatre of Scotland’s award-winning army drama is never quite as straightforward as it seems…. Beg, steal or borrow to get yourself a ticket.”
  • The Scotsman of Edinburgh concurs: “[Black Watch is] A show of astonishing power … a tragic, hilarious, lyrical and unforgettable snapshot of the views and attitudes of ordinary soldiers caught in the turning-point for the whole British army, for Western policy in the Middle East, and for global politics. Small wonder that this play has resonated across the planet.”
  • The Times of London claims: “The ingredients [of Black Watch] were always promising: the timeless theme of young men going to war, the context of the second Iraq war, the specifics of the notorious Camp Dogwood deployment just as the Black Watch learnt that it was to be amalgamated, and the golden thread of a regimental history that touches more of Scotland than you might suppose….”
  • The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) writes: “John Tiffany’s direction remains utterly dazzling, even after repeated viewings, introducing a group of young soldiers in a Fife pub before hurling them in and out of Iraq’s war zones, then flashing back through the entire history of their regiment. From the testosterone-fuelled banter at home to the sequence at Camp Dogwood, where the troops read letters from home, there isn’t a dull or redundant moment.”
  • Variety muses: “Like the martial bagpipe solo that heralds its finale, Black Watch doesn’t really resemble any of the things you’d use to explain it by way of comparison. It’s both a hymn to soldiers and an indictment of the foolishness that makes their jobs necessary, shot through with odd, affecting grace notes of music and dance. And beneath it all, the low, unmistakably Scottish hum that signals an inescapable call to duty.”
  • In The New York Times, Ben Brantley notes: “In portraying the tours of duty in Iraq of members of the Black Watch, an almost 300-year-old regiment with a gloriously storied past, this production dissolves traditional boundaries of time and form. It seems to exist at the same moment in intimate close-up — of the men being interviewed — and in wide-angle historical perspective, which encompasses the generations of Black Watch soldiers who have come before these.”

He adds: “The means through which this breadth of vision is achieved are varied and seamlessly integrated. They include images on television monitors of villages being bombed or pornography or men of state speaking pompously; naturalistic scenes of life in Iraq remembered at home in a pub and lived in the desert, in an agony of waiting; lyrical monologues of e-mail messages sent home; regimental marches that turn into dances of death; and traditional Scottish military ballads that seem to rise out of the company like a morning mist.”

Black Watch is part of Carolina Performing Arts’ International Theater Festival, which also includes Canadian circus-theater company Cirque Éloize in ID (March 1 and 2), the French-Canadian company Ex Machina in Robert Lepage’s The Andersen Project (March 17 and 18), and South Africa’s Cape Town-based Handspring Puppet Company in Woyzeck on the Highveld (April 1 and 2).

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 6, 2011 Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Rebecca J. Ritzel:; July 16, 2010 New York City Playbill Magazine preview by Kenneth Jones:; Nov. 4, 2007 broadcast of “All Things Considered” (National Public Radio):; and Aug. 29, 2006 broadcast of “All Things Considered” (NPR):

Carolina Performing Arts presents BLACK WATCH at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and 10, 8 p.m. Feb. 11, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 12, and 2 p.m. Feb. 13 in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 208 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, NC 27514.

TICKETS: $25 ($10 students).


INFORMATION: 919/843-3333 or SHOW:






The Play: Watch 2010 (official web page) and (Wikipedia).

Gregory Burke: (Wikipedia).

National Theatre of Scotland: (official website) and (Wikipedia).

The Regiment: (Museum of the Black Watch), (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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