If it’s a quiet night out at the theatre you’re after then you might be better off seeking out some other review, since the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is 110 minutes spent under near constant bombardment with mortars, IEDs and C-bombs.
On the surface it’s a story of the famed Scottish regiment’s deployment to Iraq in 2004, told by a soldier named Cammy (played by Jack Lowden), but interwoven within the tale is a brilliantly engaging history of the regiment stripped bare (literally), juxtaposing the political context against a touchingly human story of friendship, identity, duty and mortality.
The play itself transforms the Barbican auditorium unrecognisably, using live action, video footage and Laura Hopkins' ingeniously minimal set to bring the audience into an intimate pub setting, before pitching them straight into the frontline outside Fallujah. With a script (by Gregory Burke) that leaps brutally between the troops’ raucous gallows humour to silently symbolic gestures, a prevailing sense of tension throughout is wound tautly in between. The colloquialism of language used is carefully studied without resorting to awkward parody- much like the military manoeuvres performed on stage - whilst at times a carefully timed yet simple movement into an empty chair speaks more powerfully than any amount of script could hope to achieve.
Much like the production of Enron 2 years ago, you may not be prepared for the cast to be making a literal song and dance over such a subject initially, but the whole experience is sure to change your perception – of war, of theatre, and what you deem to be a “tough day at work”.
With many nights already being sold out – much like the Barbican’s previous run in 2008, which saw bun fights erupting even over the returns queue – you’ll need to be quick to get a piece of the action.
Black Watch, at the Barbican Arts Centre, until 22nd January. Tickets £35/40