Scotland the Brave
The National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch, a play about the Scottish regiment's controversial "Triangle of Death" deployment during the Iraq War, has once again returned to DC. I griped and moaned when I was unable to see it last year, but am now grateful for the wait—this play was, for me, timely.
It feels ludicrous to write about this play. Reason One: numerous reviews and articles and media have been made around it already, and I’m not sure there’s any new insight I can bring to the table that’s worth reading. Reason Two: Black Watch has been playing and touring the world for seven years now, and is more decorated than General MacArthur. All I can do is try to communicate the tremendous emotional effect this show had on me and recommend that everyone who can see it, see it posthaste.
Some theater experiences quickly fade away in my memory, and some—very few, but some—burn themselves into my mind forever. Black Watch has permanently scorched my grey matter. It was exhausting and terrifying and disturbing, and it overwhelmed me to tears during the show, after the show ... 36 hours after the show. But it also reaffirmed my faith in the power of theater; it is one of the most beautifully executed, well-crafted productions I've ever seen, and I reckon, will ever see. The vast Sidney Harman Hall is used in its entirety, most of the floorspace left open for the show’s intense, incredibly sharp choreography. During a speech about the history of the Black Watch, the tireless Ryan Fletcher is given multiple costume changes by his comrades, picked up and folded over as though he’s a piece of artillery. In another of my favorite scenes, "Ten Second Fights," the troop’s playful brawling morphs into a dance to Max Richter’s Last Days. I could go on. The set is stark and perfectly utilitarian: a gray floor marked with warning tape, flanked on each side by scaffolded towers, screens, lockers, and metal containers. Everything in the space is used and touched by the show’s ten brilliant actors, seamlessly transporting the audience from a pub to base and back again. Without hyperbole or sappiness, the play humanizes the faceless soldiers of an unpopular, unseen war. These are the soldiers we idolize, exploit, look down upon, glorify, and forget about, depending on the day. Actually, you wouldn’t know we’re at war, judging by what’s on TV, would you? But there it is, in a theater. A stage full of soldiers in all their youthful stupidity and innocence and bravery. The play loves them, and by the end, I loved them too.
Even with a 2006 debut, the piece is sadly still relevant, and will likely stay so for a long time to come. In the last few moments of the play, an Officer remarks, “We could be off to Afghanistan next. It’s going to be exactly the same. Kandahar. Helmand province… [Noise of an explosion.] We’re going to be hearing that noise for years to come.” Perhaps it’s my own anxiety from the most recent tragic events in the Middle East, or perhaps it was purely the kick in the head I got from the show, but after standing and clapping and hooting like a fool, I left the Harman wanting to run around the block a few times. The show is that powerful. It’s loud and fast and lewd, tempered with moments of heart-shattering beauty. The contrast, this constant emotional conflict and upheaval, works. This is the world we live in.
Tickets to Black Watch are not cheap, but if you can find a way in, go. Thank you, Shakespeare Theatre, for housing this show. And I beg of you to run another discount period. This is a play that people in my generation need to see.
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