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Kulture… Ah’ll Gie Ye Effin’ Kulture…

March 17, 2007

Apologies for the spelling in the title of this post, but as any Scot knows, culture is spelled with a ‘k’!

Black WatchLast night I had the pleasure of a trip to Pitlochry Festival Theatre to see the (relatively) new National Theatre of Scotland‘s (NTS) acclaimed production of Black Watch. I was really excited at the prospect of seeing the show for a whole variety of reasons… and I’m delighted to see that LTS are advertising the educational side of it with their plugs for the backstage and production workshops being run by NTS.

The play is powerful… and moving… and frighteningly relevant. Because I live in Perth, I do feel an affinity with the Black Watch Regiment. This is where they have their regimental museum, and Perth was a Black Watch Barracks town for a long time. Unfortunately, as the play pointed out, a regiment of Black Watch’s calibre took 300 years to make, but only 3 years of politics to destroy. But I’m not trying to make a political point here… even though Pete Wishart was in the audience!Black Watch Crest

There were a few stunning theatrical set pieces in the play, some I knew to expect, but a couple took me by surprise. One that will live with me for a long time was the incredibly moving scene where the soldiers in Iraq received their mail. As each soldier took their own letter from home, they responded in sign language. I found the symbolism of their response very moving. It highlighted the distance between the writer and the recipient. The fact that the soldiers were reduced to using language designed for face to face communication only heightened the poignancy of the separation. It was also a vivid reminder that many people are unable to express what we truly feel to others.

The other set piece that took my breath away was the history of the regiment told in 10 minutes… phenomenal theatre and history and education all rolled up into a lesson that will remain long after the play has gone. If only some of my own lessons were as memorable.

You can see brief extracts of both these scenes in the trailer for the play on the NTS Website, but be warned, there is some very strong language in it! There is no escaping the language of the play, it is coarse and brutal and utterly convincing. What I found particularly distressing was the recognition that the characters portrayed are some of the pupils I teach. It was this recognition that (I think) brought home the real pathos of the piece.

I am really pleased that The National Theatre of Scotland has set such a high standard, and even more delighted to hear from a conversation that my parents had with Gregory Burke (the play’s writer) that it is to tour the USA. I suspect that it may have a similar impact to Trainspotting… in other words, it shows a side of Scotland and Scottishness that is rarely seen in the States but is more akin to the reality of Scotland (or at least, it’s more realistic than Bonnie Prince Charlie on tartan shortbread tins!).

Anyway… if you haven’t seen the play, please take the opportunity as it tours Scotland (It’s in Pitlochry, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dumfries and Dingwall!), and if you’re in the States, keep your eyes peeled!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Canton Kate permalink
    April 1, 2007 9:23 pm

    Hi Neil, Thank you for your sensitive remarks on The Black Watch. I,

    too, was greatly moved by the play . Having already seen it at the

    Edinburgh festival I might have expected to find it a trifle ‘tired’, but

    was equally moved. This MUST be one of the most powerful pieces

    on war ever written.

    Gregory Burke is indeed an awesome talent.

    Sincerely Canton Kate

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