Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Black Watch" storms the Oliviers

I was lucky enough to see Black Watch, a play developed and produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, a year or so ago with my friend Julie at UCLA Live. It's just won four Laurence Olivier Awards – the most for any single production -- in London. Deservedly so, I believe.

If you know me, you know I have a certain interest in war stories. I've read quite a number of personal accounts from the Vietnam War (my favorite being Dispatches by Michael Herr). I've also written about the Iraq War, in my plays Reveille and Heads. Black Watch is a war story about a Scottish regiment that was disbanded just as its soldiers were about to be sent into the killing zone around the city of Fallujah in 2004. Writer Gregory Burke spent weeks with veterans of the operation, and from their words crafted this story about loss.

That's what I think it's about, anyway. They have a proud tradition -- generations of their families having served proudly in this regiment, which is distinctly Scottish, down to the Black Watch pattern kilts they used to wear before everyone switched to camos. Disbanding the regiment is taking that history from them, just as this war, with its questionable motivations and goals, is taking their sureness from them. And how can you be a soldier without a certain amount of sureness and pride and tradition? The story is told in scenes and songs, pyrotechnics and choreographed fight/dance scenes. It's both violent and tender. The scene that has stuck with me most strongly was where one of the men received a letter from home. He opened the envelope, took out the letter, then let it flutter to the ground as he began to sign the contents of it. Another man got his mail, and he also opened the envelope, took out the letter, let it flutter to the ground, then began to sign the contents of his letter. And then another. And then they were all arranged across the great space, "reading" their letters with their hands, and I had a great lump in my throat at this beautiful, amazing manifestation of their emotions.

So congratulations to the Black Watch folks. And also a plug for UCLA Live -- it's a wonderful series, international and interdisciplinary, and I've seen such fascinating stuff there! It's well-curated and consistently thought-provoking. Splurge for a ticket some time. Be provoked.

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