Sunday, June 22, 2008

I've Seen the White Light - Black Watch - Theatre Review

Black Watch - National Theatre of Scotland - International Tour - Varsity Arena - Toronto, ON
Written by Gregory Burke, Directed by John Tiffany

Before I get really started I'll just say this right off the bat. GO SEE BLACK WATCH by The National Theatre of Scotland. GO. Get tickets. NOW.

If you're in London, England right now, GO DIRECTLY to the Barbican Theatre and get the extra tickets they just released to the entirely sold out summer run that just started this past weekend (and ends July 26th 2008).

If you're in New York later this fall, GO order tickets for BLACK WATCH when it returns to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn (by Jay St. Borough Hall Subway Station) on Oct. 9th until Nov. 30th 2008 for 8 weeks only.

Go see this play because, and I'm going to boldly say this with very little hesitation, Black Watch may just be the best play I have EVER seen, and is definitely one of the best, most exhilerating, emotionally dramatic, surprisingly funny, shockingly innovative pieces of theatricality that I have EVER seen. Better than August: Osage County. Better than Spring Awakening (and you all know how much I LOVE that show). Better than Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. More dazzlingly memorable than Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme.

The choreography, the movements, the music, the sound effects, the lighting effects, the multimedia use, the props, the absolutely brilliant and enthusiastic actors, and the essential core stories and the ultimate message that is told without any preaching is simply ASTOUNDING in Black Watch.

It's simple and truthful and heart-wrenchingly real and Gregory Burke and John Tiffany have crafted a theatrical experience that innovatively combines every trick in the book and seamlessly folds it into the story of the Scottish Army's Black Watch soldiers and their experiences in the Iraq war.

And if you think this is going to be one of those "Iraq War" "soldiers" shows, well, it is and isn't. It was nothing to what I expected based on what I had seen. The entire piece flows from one vignette to another in a kind of theatrical poetry, first seemingly like a typical "oh god, not one of those" plays, but then things start ripping apart in surrealist manner, slowly building and layering the conversation and thoughts until it finally unleashes all the built up emotional tension in an explosive final moment.

There are so many brilliant segments that each interweave with each other as a whole, which is why Black Watch succeeds so well. There's a video preview below after the jump but to be honest, its best to go into see this show cold, and let it all unfold before you. (So I'll keep my more detailed comments after the jump in case you don't want to be spoiled).

From the rip in the pool table, to the amazing historical telling of the Black Watch through an incredibly choreographed sequence of costume changes right before our eyes, to the soldiers colloquial speak (where for once, the every-third-word-is-a-cuss-word adds to the realism of the piece), to the dullness of the heat upon the soldiers, to the clever use of multimedia along the centre walkway styled stage, Black Watch uses every "trick" in the theatrical book to great use and it never seems like they are trying or it is being used as a gimmick.

Of course, the turning point for me where it went from an intellectual piece to an emotionally gripping play was during the "letter" scene, and from there until the end where the soldiers would march in form, as soldiers kept dropping, It's where at this moment, politics shifted and the human spirit takes a blow, and no longer does it matter what opinions you may have for or against the war, that's not the point.

On top of the brilliant writing, direction and execution of the play is the cast of 10 male actors of David Colvin, Paul J Corrigan, Ali Craig, Emun Elliott, Jack Fortune, Jonathan Holt, Michael Nardone, Henry Pettigrew, Paul Rattray and Nabil Stuart who are such a strong cast individually and as a whole, that it's hard to choose any one that stands out.

Associate Director (movement) - Steven Hoggett
Associate Director (music) - Davey Anderson
Set designed by Laura Hopkins
Costumes designed by Jessica Brettle
Lighting designed by Colin Grenfell
Sound designed by Gareth Fry
Video designed by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer for Fifty Nine Productions Ltd.

Here's a video preview of The National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch:

Here's Ben Brantley's (The New York Times) review says it better than I could have. I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks.

Black Watch - National Theatre of Scotland - International Tour - Varsity Arena - Toronto, ON - ***** (5 Stars out of 5)

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