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October 2017

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Black Watch - UK and International tour 2008



Reviews from London 2008

This is not only an urgently topical piece about the sort of conflict soldiers have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the changing nature of warfare and about the morality of fighting; it is also a superb, multi-faceted political and social drama. It explores the male psyche with sympathy and wit. And in John Tiffany’s outstanding production for the National Theatre of Scotland, it becomes a blistering piece of physical theatre – by turns comical, visceral and, surprisingly, lyrical.

Burke’s expletive-riddled, vigorous script has tremendous energy and wit, and catches the rough camaraderie of the men. Tiffany’s vivid production makes eloquent use of Davey Anderson’s musical arrangements and Steven Hoggett’s choreography . . .

This is a show that brings together Scotland’s military history and its proud tradition of popular, political theatre to address one of the thorniest issues of our time.
Financial Times * * * * *

What a relief, at last, to have a play about the Iraq war that doesn’t lecture us, with the ghastly smugness of hindsight, on what we all know already: that this war was muddled and ill planned, and that its political leaders were culpably naive, if not downright dishonest.

Instead, Burke’s sublimely simple idea was to go to a Fife pub, get some squaddies talking, then turn their accounts into drama. The heart of the story is the Black Watch’s deployment, in 2004, to Camp Dogwood – a dangerous new posting – at the request of the Americans.

. . . this soldier’s viewpoint is a blast of fresh air. And not once in two hours do you remember you’re watching actors. You think you’re watching Scottish squaddies, square-bashing, on ops, “on the pish” – the energy and conviction of the ensemble is astonishing.

Paul Rattray gives a standout performance as Cammy, embittered but devoted, and Michael Nardone is terrific as the Sergeant. The language is filthy, furious and comically hyperaggressive, and even the fight scenes are convincing.
Sunday Times * * * * *

Here is a startling, noisy, upsetting, violently thrilling show.

Running without an interval, it is almost two hours of soldierly kinship splattered with the coarse language of the ranks.

This pulsating epic of a night swirls with bagpipe music. Its emotions boomerang from boredom to bravado, jitters to jocularity.
Daily Mail * * * * *

Using a crackling script infused with four-letter humour, John Tiffany’s production is nothing short of spectacular. The cast, too, is flawless: by the end it is hard to believe that these coiled, dangerous young men are actors at all.

Black Watch succeeds spectacularly.
Daily Express * * * *

With its graphic violence, this does not make for an easy night out, but it does make for a thought-provoking one . . .

Top marks to the Barbican for having the guts to stage [Black Watch]. One wonders whether Tony Blair - or for that matter Gordon Brown - will have the guts to see it. I dare them.
Sunday Telegraph * * * *

John Tiffany's all-male troup excels at swaggering and turning the air blue. They capture the sweltering boredom of Camp Dogwood, the joshing macho humour, explosions of internecine rage and the terror of sudden enemy attacks.

This is a cross between a regimental drill and a ceilidh, sporadically scattering into sprinting, panic-stricken chaos. Electrifying.
Independent on Sunday

Click here to read comments from audiences at the 2008 Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk, USA.

Reviews from USA Tour 07

Put simply, it's essential that you see Black Watch . . . it's among the most compelling theater pieces you could wish to see. And weep for, in a sense. The production from Scotland's National Theater is a magnificent one, and its awesome reality and humaneness will overwhelm you.
New York Observer
[Black Watch] arrives like a blazing redeemer . . .  a necessary reminder of the transporting power that is unique to theater. Other narrative forms . . . could tell the story that is told here. But none could summon and deploy the array of artistic tools that is used with such mastery and immediacy. Every moment in Black Watch seems to bleed from the previous one in an uninterrupted river of sensations.
New York Times

[Black Watch is] both a hymn to soldiers and an indictment of the foolishness that makes their jobs necessary, shot through with odd, affecting grace notes of music and dance. And beneath it all, the low unmistakably Scottish hum that signals an inescapable call to duty.

The sadness that underscores every scene comes from the knowledge that the battles have been picked by venal politicans who couldn't care less about the best interests of the soldiers fighting them.
Black Watch provides a theatrical experience not easily forgotten.
New York Post
Creative staging and an exceptionally gutsy performance style give this saga a blazing vitality.
John Tiffany's dynamic, sure-handed direction keeps the production aiming straight for its target: to relate these Scottish soldiers' experiences in Iraq vividly and with little comment other than war is hell.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger

Black Watch also topped many US critics' Best of 2007 lists . . .

New York Times: Ben Brantley’s Top 10 plays of 2007
New York Magazine: Theatrical Event of the Year
New Jersey Star Ledger: Michael Sommers’ Top 10 Plays of 2007
Newsweek: Five best plays of 2007
Time Out New York: The best plays of 2007
New York Sun: Top 10 plays of 2007
LA Times: Best of 2007

Reviews from Spring 07

The National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch was impressive in Edinburgh last August, and the events of the intervening months have done nothing to diminish its impact. In fact, its political edge seemed much more remarkable here [in Pitlochry] than it had in the context of the Fringe . . . Director John Tiffany is particularly well served, however, by the moving and committed performances of a terrific cast
The Herald * * * * *

The show's  thrilling combination of complex political argument, hard-edged  naturalism,  barrack-room banter, deep regimental history, spectacular visual effects and suberb music and movement remains as mind-blowing as ever.
The Scotsman * * * * *

Reviews from Edinburgh Fringe 06

Blackwatch is an astonishing artistic whirlwind that, despite its localised setting, is utterly international in its approach. The world must see this play. Immediately.
The Herald * * * * *

The technical quality of this production is flawless . . . Far more important, though, is the ground-shaking energy with which it announces the arrival of the National Theatre . . . [Gregory] Burke’s play [represents] a massive step forward in our understanding and recognition of a vital part of our national story and - potentially - of the relationship between Scottish theatre and the widest possible popular audience, both at home, and far beyond our shores.
The Scotsman * * * * *

Brimming with breathtaking theatricality, inventiveness, style thought provoking intelligence, humour and heart, this is a show that should be seen by everyone who can and is sure to be lamented by those who can’t.

An unmissable piece of theatre.
The Metro (Scotland) * * * * *

A powerful, urgent, perfectly realised piece of work . . . It's like watching a 10-man Tattoo, only there's more room for emotionally expressive manoeuvre.

Here, at last, is an evening that accords the UK's long-suffering soldiery some of the public respect they deserve.
Daily Telegraph

John Tiffany's storming, heart-stopping production is all disorienting blood, guts and thunder, threaded through with the history and songs of the regiment and intercut with lyrical moments of physical movement, like some great dirty ballet of pulsating machismo and terrible tenderness.
The Guardian * * * * *

It's a superlative play . . . brimfull of theatricality, energy and style, and with its cast of 10, pipe music and huge video projections, it's almost a mini-Tattoo. But there's no flag-waving here, just a deeply humane examination of the culture of soldiering . . . a brilliantly realised piece.
Evening Standard * * * * * 

The actors burn with restless energy and John Tiffany's production is robustly inventive . . . Completely brilliant.
Sunday Telegraph * * * * *

The foundation stone of Gregory Burke as a playwright is his grasp of different kinds of male relationship: camaraderie, community and rivalry are all present between his characters, but they are always talking the same language and wired for the same feelings. His new piece Black Watch fits this hypothesis perfectly.
Financial Times * * * *

For once, superlatives are no exaggeration. This is a stunning show. You emerge, after an hour and three quarters of this astonishing show, with your political dander twanging, your outrage tweaked.
Daily Mail

The show gets away with its stylized, balletic-meets-bodyslamming battles (choreographed by Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly) because the acting is excellent and authentically mouthy. Director John Tiffany and designer Laura Hopkins also inject electrifyingly imaginative images.
Independent on Sunday

Brilliantly staged in an old drill hall cavernous, clanging and lit with brutal clarity, so that the shadows are black, and the action keeps on reverberating this is both documentary and lament, accusation and elegy. The dialogue is clenched and full of curses. The soldiers are sinewy scraped, as if they've just shaved in cold water: they speak bluntly; they move with a precision and accord which shows the power of being in a unit and a fighting force, and which exposes as totally flabby most theatrical attempts to mimic the martial.
The Observer

Black Watch is a glorious piece of theatre, raw, truthful, uncomfortable, political, funny, moving, graceful and dynamic . . . If anyone wondered why we needed a National Theatre of Scotland, this is the answer.
Scotland on Sunday

Confident and hard-hitting which has the guts to entertain and provoke in equal measure.
The Stage

Tiffany directs Burke's script - a splendid, rumbunctiously humorous, moving and insightful affair - with real verve. . . Tiffany shows the kind of theatrical nous and showmanship in his use of multimedia and movement that won't often be seen this festival . . . Brian Ferguson's bawdy, baffled narrator is truly first class.
The List * * * *

This should really be a 6* play. This is not to show disrespect to those must-see shows that get the top score but to recognise that if one sees one new show as good as Black Watch in a year that is cause to feel joy . . .
British Theatre Guide * * * * *

Playgoers looking for 'Oh what a Lovely War' and ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ will disappointed. This play, commissioned by the newly-created National Theatre of Scotland, has a depth of human knowledge and fellow feeling that makes it both real and contemporary.
Royal United Services Institute journal