Davey Anderson (Associate Director, Music) and Steven Hoggett (Associate
Director, Movement) discuss the process involved in putting Black Watch
together with National Theatre of Scotland’s web editor, Colin Clark.
What kinds of things are we likely to learn in this show about life in the Black Watch Regiment or about the Black Watch itself?
SH: There’s a strong element of the sociology of the Black Watch in the show. The catchment area of the Black Watch was very specific, and even though it’s become somewhat diluted recently with the amalgamation of the regiments, the Black Watch recruits a very particular kind of person from a
particular area. There was always a strong chance that the men knew each other from before they signed up, or they were related in some way, so a strong sense of camaraderie formed between them instinctively as people before it was created among them as soldiers. There’s a real purity to these relationships that makes the regiment quite exceptional. I think the history of the Black Watch makes it quite special; I think it has a real iconic status.
What areas does the play explore in terms of the psychology of young men in battle?
DA: What gets forgotten is that these troops come home eventually and they have a life beyond the army. They carry with them their experiences of warfare and take them into whatever it is they do next—being a janitor in a school, for example, or working at the deli counter in Tesco. We train these soldiers to become war machines, to become fighting machines, to kill other people and there’s something frustrating in that the act of fighting is so technologically advanced now, that it’s all done remotely, like playing a computer game.
So all this frustration and training these soldiers have bottled up often comes out when they come home—which is not part of the story when we talk about the Iraq war, or any other war. This personal aspect is something that’s forgotten about. It was really interesting to get that from [writer Gregory] Burke’s text. It was a reminder of what happens when the soldiers get back to Dunfermline or Dundee.
Steven, how have you trained your actors to move like army personnel?
SH: The biggest challenge in creating a show like this is to work so that these guys—who are clearly not soldiers, they’re actors—never look like actors trying to be soldiers.
We have to make sure that they are as precise and as physically committed to everything they do. Arguably that’s what every actor should always be doing, but I know that if I came to see a piece like Black Watch I’d been looking out for the actors being a little bit wet, a little bit off the count, or not quite giving it all the energy that this world should contain. The control of the guys physically is something we really had to nail. We had a
drill sergeant who came in and did a couple of sessions with us. That taught us a lot about just what it means to hear a voice and to do exactly what that voice says, not even to question it. He talked about how you hold yourself—tiny details like when you stand to attention and you clench your fist, your thumb is pressed against your index finger and that has to be in line with the middle of your thigh muscle. You have all these different things to think about. The point of it all is that if you can get the actors to where they’ll do anything you want, aggressively and precisely, then we can also play with this physicality when we want to show the characters as people with hearts who go to bed at the end of the day and who think about things, and who miss
people and who love people.
It’s exciting to work on a piece where you’re legitimately able to create such a big physical spectrum—to go right into the military material, but also to be able to explore what’s inside that makes these young men tick over.
Davey, how important has music been in the devising of Black Watch?
DA: Well, the reason there’s music in there at all is that Greg, as he was researching, came across some traditional songs of the Black Watch. He thought they were quite interesting in terms of the stories they told—about recruiting sergeants coming round and stories of soldiers joining straight from school, getting injured in a war and coming home and living the rest of their life unable to work the way they would normally have done. Also, musically, there’s a real togetherness: singing together as a big male choir was a great bonding experience.
We tried to find a way of making the songs as musically interesting as possible, and to try and find some hidden emotion in them. So we stripped
them back, opened them out a little bit so that you are able to listen to the different layers of meaning within the words and hear the different subtexts within the songs.
The play has been based on the verbatim responses from interviews that Gregory Burke conducted with members of the Black Watch. Was he interviewing serving soldiers or people who had left the army?
DA: He was interviewing mostly guys who had just left within the last year but who are still on the reserves list. So it was guys who had made a
conscious decision to leave the Army and who weren’t going back, but who had been out to Iraq on two different tours, and even some who had been out to Kosovo before that.
Although the play started off with a verbatim approach, it moved away from that quite quickly, which is useful theatrically because it means you aren’t tied down to valuing every single word or being under some moral obligation to say every word in the precise order it was spoken. What we’re really trying to do is tell a story and when you stick to a verbatim approach, storytelling becomes secondary. Storytelling comes first here I think.
Documentary can be about observing the way people move. Bringing in the drill sergeant, for example, and getting the actors to move the way soldiers move is one way of observing in a different way from putting a tape recorder down and documenting someone’s words.
SH: I think we’ve become very clever as observers. We watched this soldier being interviewed on the news and what he was talking about was less important to us than the way he was really uncomfortable and couldn’t look the interviewer in the eyes. We want to make sure that as many of these observations appear in the show as possible.
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