Black Watch - John Tiffany
Back to black
After touring the world to much acclaim, Black Watch is back in Scotland. Director John Tiffany talks to Steve Cramer about its return
Certainly the most phenomenal success produced by the Scottish theatre for a couple of decades, Greg Burke’s Black Watch has travelled the world since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. New York, Sydney, Los Angeles – it has become, and continues to be the Alan Whicker of Scottish plays. And its reception has been almost universally positive.
In a sense, Greg Burke’s story is both universal and immediate, tracking as it does, a small group of Scottish soldiers from the regiment of the title through a tour of Iraq, showing them in bawdy play and life threatening situations, and finally devolving into a tragedy. But if the earthy Fife language keeps us constantly in the here and now, there’s also a journey through history and context in the piece, with the regiment’s legacy in British imperial history also part of its immensely theatrical action.
Asked what it is about this National Theatre of Scotland success story that makes it travel so well, director John Tiffany has a couple of explanations: ‘The first thing is, whether it be Iraq itself, or the Middle East, or East meets West, it’s certainly a story of our time. So it’s a conversation that everyone wanted to engage with. It was interesting to go to New Zealand, in fact, because that was the first place we’d been that hadn’t sent soldiers to Iraq. But it was full of Scots, so it went down well with them as well.’
He adds: ‘The other thing about it is the production is not just text – it uses lots of different ways to communicate with an audience, although it’s got incredibly strong and precise vernacular which Greg reproduces brilliantly. Still, it’s incredible, it wasn’t designed to tour the world, it was designed to play three weeks in Edinburgh.’
There’s no doubt that while British and Western troops continue to serve abroad, the play could continue to run. Yet Tiffany seems a little uncomfortable about this suggestion: ‘What [NTS Artistic Director] Vicky Featherstone says is it’s horrific how successful it is, because the issues are still so alive. But partly because of that, I’m not sure how long I want it to go on for. We’re going back to New York this Autumn, but after that I’m not sure I want it to go much further, even though I think there’d be an audience. I don’t want it to be Mamma Mia.’
Shortly, this production will, in a sense, find its way home, for in what looks like the beginning of its last Scottish tour, Black Watch will play Glenrothes, the heartland of the regiment’s recruiting ground. In compiling the piece, Greg Burke used first hand accounts of soldiers returned from Iraq, and he incorporates the story of two soldiers killed there. ‘This is where we’ve been heading since we opened it,’ says Tiffany. ‘A lot of my and Neil Black, the production manager’s energy went into getting it done in Fife, it’s wonderful that it’s happened.
‘A monument to the two boys whose story we tell has just been erected in Glenrothes; they were from the town. We changed the names, because we didn’t want to drag their families into it, but the story of how they died is factually totally accurate.’
Rothes Hall, Glenrothes, Thu 27 Mar–Sat 5 Apr, then touring.