Blog Your Blessings: Black Watch

This week's blessing is the play Black Watch, which I had the pleasure of seeing at St. Anne's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, on Friday evening. It is a beautiful, complex work of political art. Black Watch is a production of the National Theater of Scotland written by Gregory Burke and directed by John Tiffany.

On one level, the drama captures the real experience of soldiers of the Black Watch regiment in Iraq. On another, it is about the problem of transforming the myriad ineffable experiences of being a soldier into a story--something that can be communicated to a world that often sits in judgment of soldiers as otherwise unemployable fools.

The story begins in a Scottish pub when a writer begins interviewing a handful of soldiers who have left the regiment about their experiences. The soldiers are not able to communicate their memories through language; discourse immediately dissolves into sentences broken up with the F word--or with streams of the F-word interrupted by poor attempts at complete sentences--as the soldiers struggle to get to the heart of their lives as soldiers, which is to say to get to the heart of themselves.

Black Watch
dissolves the line between time and space, your reality and mine, as it merges TV monitors, documentary footage, letters, dialog, soliloquy, ballads, song, and dance to get to that unique and private place at the heart of these fighting men.

In the end, the soldiers do not retell the story but relive it in a sequence of vignettes that include an elegantly choreographed retelling through narrative and costuming of the history of the regiment and an equally elegant parade in which the soldiers march, fall, lift each other up, march, fall, lift each other up, without ever missing a beat or forgetting what they're about.

The combination of history, community, hunger, and a desire for adventure cause the young men of the Black Watch Regiment to sign up and fight. They whys and wherefores are complicated, but they come down to young men making deliberate choices. They are not victims. They are individuals with personalities and strengths of character--despite the boredom and the adolescent tomfoolery that often overtakes them even in Iraq.

"When the soldiers of Scotland used to fight, they would have people who stood in front of the soldiers and recite the names of their ancestors. In the end, our soldiers don't fight for Britan or for the government or for Scotland. They fight for their regiment. Their company. Their platoon. Their mates," says Black Watch author Gregory Burke in the playbill.Watching this play, you can see this makes perfect sense even when war makes no sense at all.

This 110-minute non-stop performance made me think of all the men in my family who have served in the military. I thought especially of my great-uncle who came home from World War II when the thing ended. He had placed his cap on a pipe in the basement of his mother's home. It stayed there for 50 years, when his niece bought the family home and renovated it. My uncle tucked the cap into a dresser drawer at his nursing home and that was that. My uncle was a meticulous man who didn't leave things laying around and who was never at a loss for words. When I was a young girl, he once showed me a stamp that depicted the kind of ordnance he used to fix when he served in the South Pacific. "When you test fire, you are all by yourself," was his commentary on the war. That was it. What happened over there? It never seemed right for this young girl to ask. Black Watch took me inside his silence.

Blog Your Blessings


  1. This is an interesting post! I had a great-uncle killed in the first world war, but I feel there is something very wrong with the war in Iraq.

  2. As someone who has served in Iraq and has seen BlackWatch I know that this Play was wonderfully written and true to life. It is about your "mates" not whatever party runs your government.

  3. As the wife of a Career Sailor (Retired) I can certainly relate to this...wonderful post

  4. Some times art gets to us to the truth quicker than more mundane forms of reality.

  5. A deep consideration, Sandy.
    Interesting post.

  6. I loved the last sentence. . . "took me inside his silence." What a mouthful! I have my BYB post up finally.

  7. The Black Watch is one of the UK's most honoured regiments. Yes, a soldier fights for his mates, his family, his way of life, his parents, his children yet to be, his dog.
    All these things are represented by the standard of a regiment, or the national flag - they are your particular take on it, all wrapped up in 'patriotism'; a communal expression - a statement that, by working together like this, we can protect what we all, individually, hold dear.
    At least, that's how it seems to me.

  8. Excellent post, Sandy! My blessing is that my nephew came back from Iraq alive...

  9. Anonymous12:42 PM

    My experience in military reinforces your theme. The difference between Black Watch youth and Bronx terror kids is the unity of unit. That's why testing ordnance was so difficult for your great-uncle: one was NOT with his unit for that part. Together, we lived, survived, thrived.

  10. This sounds similar to the book I am currently reading. Hey, maybe I could have just watched this instead of reading. :)

  11. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Sounds very powerful. I hope to have the opportunity to see it.

    Mama Kelly

  12. Excellent post... I've read about the play, but haven't had a chance to see it... but it is on my list... and high on it at that. Thanks for posting...

  13. Sounds like an excellent play. I normally shy away from war stories (too many friends gone), but this sounds worthwhile.

  14. Anonymous12:05 PM

    I would love to see this!

  15. Sounds like an interesting play and very moving Sandy. Some members of my family on my mother's side fought in the wars. I think we can all relate to this.

  16. Black Watch must be powerful. And you write about it beautifully.


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