Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Golden Thread that connects us all.

 For it's over the mountain, over the main
Through Gibraltar, tae France and tae Spain
Wi' a feather in your bonnet and a kilt aboon your knee
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa wi'me.
Chris Starkie (Stewarty)
Last Friday night after seeing National Theatre of Scotland's production of  Black Watch at  Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in DC, my friend and I turned to each other and realized at the same time that we had found a new obsession.  Although no, it actually wasn't new.  This was a show that we had seen and loved when it had last been through in early 2011.  We just didn't expect that we would be able to see it again quite so soon.

Oh, there was a rumor we heard from Adam McNamara in November of 2011 when we were in London seeing Michael Sheen's Hamlet at the Young Vic.  A rumor that a new tour was being proposed for the US.  Vigorous Google searching revealed nothing.  As it was, we had to practically wait until opening night to find out who was in the cast.   
Andrew Fraser (Fraz), Robert Jack (Sergeant)

Happily, we were not disappointed.  A new tour was mounted, the cast is brilliant, and I am, once again, completely enthralled with this show.  And I don't know why.  No, really.  Why do I like this show so much?  On the surface, you wouldn't think that we had much in common.  I'm not Scottish (that I know of, at least).  I've never been in the army or to Iraq.  Heck, I've never even fired a gun.  And my mom would be washing my mouth constantly if I swore as much as these characters do.  So what is it that draws me to this piece?

The plot jumps back and forth between the "present" in a pub in Scotland where six of the Black Watch soldiers are being interviewed about their experiences in Iraq by a writer who is interested in developing a piece for the theatre based on the interviews and the past in Iraq where there are eight soldiers and two officers.  You do the math.  Some people might not make it home.  Much of what is said in the interviews relates to the following scene which takes place in Iraq.  Scene transitions generally happen through song (using traditional songs of the Black Watch) or by the Officer's emails being read aloud by the Officer.  So, say in the pub when they have a problem with the accent Rossco uses to portray native Iraqi citizens, Rossco suggests that anyone who has a problem with his accent is welcome to step outside for ten seconds to resolve the issue.  In the next Iraq scene, there is a whole segment of well-choreographed "Ten Second Fights" (started by Kenzie and Nabsy).

Scott Fletcher (Kenzie) and Cameron Barnes (Macca)
I think that what first drew me in on my initial viewing was the choreography.   That and the Bluesy scene made me cry.  That is when they receive their mail and it is a big sign language segment which is another thing that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.  And then the second time was getting acclimated to the characters and their relationships with each other.  So by the third time I saw it, I could really focus in on the character traits the actors have developed and really begin to appreciate their relationships and the jokes (and seriously, Stewarty needs a hug, and it is especially moving when you know that he is based off of a real soldier who went through that and is still suffering the PTSD).  Four of the actors-Richard Rankin as Granty, Chris Starkie as Stewarty, Cameron Barnes as Macca, and Scott Fletcher as Kenzie (plus understudy Adam McNamara) were the same from the first time I saw Black Watch.  The other five actors were new to me-Adam as Rossco, Ryan Fletcher as Cammy, Gavin Jon Wright as Nasby (and Gavin-hehe), Robert Jack as the Sergeant and Writer, Andrew Fraser as Fraz, and Stephen McCole as Officer and Lord Elgin.  It was slightly disconcerting seeing it again with half of the cast being familiar (which is odd considering I hadn't seen it in two years) and the others being new.  But, I quickly got over that and happily followed along with the new cast.

Gavin Jon Wright (Nabsy), Ryan Fletcher (Cammy), and Stephen McCole (Officer) in the "Fashion" scene.
It really is an ensemble piece.  Which could be part of the reason why I like it so much.  I was reflecting today that it is a bit like the student revolutionaries in Les Miserables.  Another favorite show of mine.  Except, you know, happily not everyone dies at the end of Black Watch.  Yay!  But, speaking as someone who has seen Les Miserables far more times than she can remember, I enjoy watching the characters in the same way that I enjoyed watching the ensemble work on the barricades.  Just, you know, different battles and time periods.  Maybe that is why I like it so much.

Scott Fletcher (center as Kenzie)
Plus, there is the knowledge that it is soon going away.  It is only a three week run at Shakespeare Theatre Company.  ::sniffsniff::  Which has perhaps led to my sudden determination to see it as many times as possible.  Hence, why I have already seen this touring cast three times and will being seeing it two more times before the show moves on to Chicago.  Touring shows, much like glory, is a fleeting thing and must be taken advantage of whenever possible.

I love the music in it.  I have a thing for bagpipes.  I know that is weird.  Or maybe not weird, just a developed taste.  I'll blame that on the fact that my college had a pipe and drum band and I could hear their practice every week.  It does grow on you, I guess.  And this show has the fabulous talent of award-winning bagpiper Cameron Barnes (who is also super nice) who plays two songs live on bagpipes.  Besides that, we also get lovely regimental songs that have been stuck in my head the past few weeks.  Actually, I had to go download not as awesome recordings of the songs because I kept singing them.  They are on my ipod now.  
My new favorite bagpiper (not that I have an old favorite)! Cameron Barnes (Macca) and myself.

It also doesn't help that the cast is so impossibly nice.  After the first tour came round, I hunted up a copy of the script with photos of that cast in it.  I brought it to the show last Friday night and waited at the stage door to try to get them to sign it (yes, I'm a dork, shut up).  But, really.  So nice!  They all were quite happy to sign it for me and even stopped to chat a bit.  So, there, I'll blame them.  Their offstage awesomeness sealed the deal to make this one of the best shows I've seen all year.

A couple of years ago, I did a mini-review of the Black Watch script by Gregory Burke for one of my 48-hour reading challenge books.  Though it was basically me stating that the actual show is so much more than the script.  So, by all means, read the script.  Even if lines are changed or ad libbed.  But also do yourself a favour and see the show if you get the chance.  Please.  It's playing Chicago next followed by South Korea and finally Seattle and San Francisco in the spring.
Just because my friend sent this to me.  There are only two uses of kilts in the show so don't get your hopes up too high on that account. ;)