Thursday, October 30, 2008

Black Watch

I expected to be riveted by this piece from National Theatre Of Scotland, which has traveled the world to great acclaim and has just extended its sold out run at St. Anne's Warehouse. Instead I find myself in the minority, thinking that its often striking theatricality is a case of style over substance. The playwright interviewed young Scottish soldiers who served in Iraq - some of their insights are interesting, particularly because their subculture is aggressive and they nonetheless came to think of the U.S. as bullies - but the playwright does next to nothing to distinguish the boys from one another, which becomes exhausting. This documentary-interview material alternates with highly theatrical, visceral sequences which miss as often as they hit. The best is a hypnotic wordless segment with faux-Glass musical underscoring in which the boys read letters to themselves while slowly adopting individuated, specific hand signals and body language: the segment evokes feeling and has a compelling strangeness. The worst is a gimmicky segment in which one of the boys narrates the history of the Scot fighting force while the other soldiers re-outfit him: it's theatricality for its own sake, nothing more than a way to enliven dry information.

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