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'Black Watch' is back at Shakespeare Theatre Company

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

"Black Watch," at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, was not presented to director John Tiffany as a completed script. "What I love about theater is that a piece like this is all about collaboration in a room with lots of different artists," said Tiffany.

"The genesis of this piece came in 2005 when we began to create the National Theatre of Scotland. We wanted to craft pieces that looked to the future but also honored Scottish theatrical traditions. As we thought about what we could perform, we happened to read two newspaper articles.

"One was about the death of three Black Watch soldiers and a translator in Iraq. The other was about the amalgamation of all the Scottish regiments, so effectively the Black Watch would disappear. We thought there was tremendous irony in the fact that while the men were out there dying in Iraq, their regiment was being dissolved."

A decision was made to have Tiffany's associate Gregory Burke interview soldiers returning from Iraq to get the true story of their experiences on the ground. Tiffany also wanted to incorporate the history of Scottish theater by using music hall elements, direct address to the audience, movement and song. And he wanted to honor the history of the Black Watch.

Onstage
'Black Watch'
Where: Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW
When: Through October 7
Info: $70 to $85; 202-547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org

"The Black Watch is one of the most illustrious regiments," said Tiffany. "They've been at the vanguard of British military operations for 400 years. Something they're very proud of is what they call 'The Golden Thread,' where you can trace a line back from them to the first Black Watch soldiers who were from the Highlands, spoke Gaelic and wore the kilt. They carry that history with them, it gives them fuel."

"Black Watch" begins in a recruiting center in Scotland, then moves to Camp Dogwood in Iraq and eventually to Iraq's notorious "Triangle of Death."

"Black Watch" has received uniformly positive reviews wherever it has been performed, including Washington where it played in early 2011. Critics invariably cite its "realism," but Tiffany feels he didn't need any particular techniques to create a sense of intense reality.

"I just tried to be truthful to what the soldiers told us," said Tiffany, "I tried to tell the story that war is isolating and bonding at the same time. You can only really get to any truth by telling peoples' stories."

This version of "Black Watch" is essentially the same as the original one. "We never want to update 'Black Watch,' " said Tiffany, "because it's about a moment in time and through that moment it manages to speak about Afghanistan and all other wars. This play is 'about' Iraq, but it's actually about every war that's ever been or will ever be."

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