Forward the 42nd! Gregory Burke’s glorious drama about the Black Watch regiment brought the audience at the Girls Model School to its feet last night.
Based on interviews with former soldiers from the regiment about their experiences in Iraq, it paints a vivid picture of the boredom, blood and brotherhood that makes up life in the army.
Performed superbly by a cast of 10, who’ve formed a bond as tight as any crack unit, and directed by John Tiffany, the story flits between pool room and desert, past and present.
Ex-squaddies are interviewed by a writer (so far, so fact) about what it was like to serve in Iraq. The soldiers had been moved to Fallujah, to the ‘triangle of death’ to fill in for US troops who have gone on an offensive.
Black Watch has a revered role in Scotland, with men following their fathers and grandfathers into the regiment — a “golden thread” that links past, present and future.
As 800 men from the 42nd try to fill the gap left by 4,000 marines, they learn their regiment is to be amalgamated with other Scottish divisions — an ill-timed betrayal, many felt, by an uncaring government.
The action unfurls in a heart-pumping blend of words, music, movement and mime. While the squaddies cheer at news of a kill, they weep on receiving their letters from home.
Each scene brings another facet of soldiering into the spotlight.
“It’s not like you’re doing the job you trained for,” says one. “It’s not like there’s a threat to our country or anything.”
After watching in stunned awe at a US attack on a village, another says: “This isn’t fighting — it’s bullying.”
The men have no concept of their enemies — what have the Iraqis got to do with their crude games and lewd pictures and arguments over cheese on toast?
It’s clear that war is fought not on the battlefield, but for the hearts of these warriors.
And they fight not for king or country, but for the man standing next to them.
Black Watch has marched into history.
The story it tells is still being told, in foreign fields across the world.