BLACK WATCH (National Theatre of Scotland). Opens Friday (June 6) and runs to June 15 at Varsity Arena (275 Bloor West). 416-872-1111. See Openings. Rating: NNNNN
You may think it’s weird to stage a play in a hockey arena. But Black Watch needs that kind of venue.
The searing, physically demanding show (the actors do an hour of exercises to prepare for each performance) is the theatrical equivalent of a sporting match. Their emotions ignited, the characters – soldiers in the iconic Scottish regiment – compete and battle constantly, but this show, unlike a game, is meticulously choreographed.
Director John Tiffany says he actually wanted to recreate a military tattoo.
“That’s why we couldn’t do it in a conventional theatre,” says Tiffany on the phone from the National Theatre of Scotland in Glasgow. “It’s a spectacle. It’s seductive and appalling at the same time. We wanted the audience on either side of the action, facing each other, so they’re in the theatre wall. There are speakers under the seats, and that creates a real intimacy.”
Gregory Burke’s play almost didn’t get made, so uneasy were the Scots about messing with the image of the Black Watch and so unpopular is the Iraq war in Scotland.
“Our approach was that we can say whatever the hell we like – it’s fiction,” Tiffany explains. “But that wasn’t so easy with Black Watch. We got doors slammed in our faces because there’s so much sensitivity about the war.”
They finally succeeded thanks to the research strategy of extracting the stories from the soldiers themselves.
“The Black Watch soldiers love [the play] because we’re telling true stories about the horror and brutality and the way the soldiers were betrayed,” he says. “Not to say that these boys are angels. To go into the military [Black Watch soldiers are volunteers] is an alien choice for me. But they didn’t have training for the warfare of the region. They were encountering suicide warfare for the first time.”
The language spewing from the mouths of these military men stops at nothing.
“It’s filth,” says Tiffany pointedly. “But it’s also an absolute recreation of the way soldiers communicate. They use the F-word and the C-word as punctuation, almost as a pause for breath.
“Some people have suggested that we toned it down. Others are offended by the language more than they’re offended that the soldiers were in Iraq in the first place. And that offends me.”
How they got the raw material:
On the raw language:
How the tattoo inspired the vision: