If you’ve never heard of the Black Watch, fret not. One character will relay everything you need to know about the Scottish military regiment. In fact, the chatty Cammy (Paul Rattray) will recount nearly 300 years of history — at the same time being dressed and undressed in the latest era-appropriate fashion like a life-size GI Joe action figure, while his castmates do double-duty as scenery and props — in about five minutes. Exposition accomplished.
You’ve never seen anything like that scene — and you’ve probably never seen anything like the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch, which is ensconced at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse through Nov. 30. To call it a war play would be reductive; dubbing it an event is underselling it. (Not that the show needs any help in the sales department; at this point, the safest way to score a ticket is via the cancellation line.) Quite simply, it illustrates a very straightforward story (soldiers tell writer about their experiences in Iraq) with an ingenious fusion of ancient theatrical traditions (song, dance, mime) and 21st-century technology (projections, TV screens). Gregory Burke’s script is cacophonous, coarse, and fragmented. (Not to mention extremely profane — if you can’t handle a few hundred f–ks and c–ts, stay home.) A post-war pub interview with the ”Black Watch lads” — which the playwright actually conducted himself as research — is his jumping-off point; from there, the action bounces back and forth between the bar and the Iraqi desert. They’re dramatic shifts, but seamless transitions thanks to director John Tiffany; he knows how to make the most of music, where a bone-rattling sound-effect is required, and that a group of synchronized marching soldiers can be as thrilling as a Broadway musical kick line.
It’s impossible to imagine the show without this visceral stagecraft and the troupe of 10 sensational actors (who throw themselves into the piece — often literally), but the concept is where Black Watch‘s beauty truly lies. Soldiers’ stories in their own (often reluctant) words. ”I didnay want tay have tay explain myself tay people ay,” begins Cammy. ”Well I want you to f—ing know. I wanted to be in the army. I could have done other stuff. I’m not a f—ing knuckle dragger.” How astonishing that it took five years for someone to have this idea. And yet for Black Watch, it would have been worth waiting another five. A (Tickets: stannswarehouse.org or 866-811-4111)