Jan 19, 2008

Black Watch

Friday night in Sydney, another great night out with the Sydney Festival. This time, my first visit to the year old Carriageworks (pictured), a converted railway workshop, half way between Redfern and Newtown. Firstly, this is a magnificent setting for any type of performance. Old brick walls, exposed pipes lend a very authentic air to the whole space. Secondly, I witnessed a night of great theatre in Black Watch, presented by the National Theatre of Scotland.

Black Watch was an undulating piece of work, very often rising to great heights, then sometimes experiencing flat points. It produced moments of great artistic beauty and black humour, but also featured some sloppily written passages. However, for a play like this, the sum total was definitely greater then the parts, producing an enthralling night of theatre. The play featured 10 men, with heavy Scottish accents, who were all part of the 300 year old Black Watch regiment. This regiment has a long and illustrious history, but these men found their war experience in the political quagmire of Iraq. The story begins with the men back home in Scotland, being interviewed about their experiences in Iraq. There after, the action jumps between the interviews at home and their time in Iraq. I certainly found that the second half worked better then the first. There seemed to be too many scenes of the young men acting out their laddish ways. Whilst I was waiting for dark and disturbing stories of warfare, we were entreated to maybe one too many stories of male sexual conquests. However as the play gained momentum, I bought into the story more, as each character revealed more of themselves I felt a stronger connection. In fact, by the play's end I was quite devastated as tragedy strikes the regiment of men. I was also made quite strongly to feel the bond between each men in dire situations. The most pleasant surprise of the play was that it featured two aspects I wasn't quite expecting. Humour and music. The men's humour was extremely dark and ribald, leading to many scenes that were quite hilarious. Plus there are scenes where the men break into traditional Scottish song, which proved very moving and touching. Then to top it all off, the play was very physical. There were huge scenes of graceful and exquisitely choreographed movement, which sometimes broke into an almost balletic dance. Without doubt the best scene involved one where each of the men received a letter from home. Then gracefully they hand signed their replies back home, each in their own way. It is one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen on stage. One of the sure fire hits of the festival, this play was a surprise in many ways. Although uneven in parts, it delivered when it needed to, to great effect.

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