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Theatre reviews: Spine-tingling Scots drama is still a tour de force

Black Watch, SECC, Glasgow

Shona Craven

Four years on from its rapturously received premiere, the National Theatre of Scotland’s mighty Black Watch is still stunning Scottish audiences, most of whom will, by now, have heard all about the show, but may not quite be prepared for its spine-tingling power.

John Tiffany’s direction remains utterly dazzling, even after repeated viewings, introducing a group of young soldiers in a Fife pub before hurling them in and out of Iraq’s war zones, then flashing back through the entire history of their regiment. From the testosterone-fuelled banter at home to the sequence at Camp Dogwood, where the troops read letters from home, there isn’t a dull or redundant moment.

What has changed over the years is the cast, with a stint in the show now a vulture’s feather in the cap of dozens of actors at the beginning of their careers. What’s initially striking about the current ensemble is how youthful they appear. Perhaps, like junior doctors, it just seems they get younger every year, but the production is all the more poignant for it. Jack Lowden’s baby-faced Cammy is less a battle-hardened hero than a traumatised boy torn between allegiances, while Jamie Quinn is heartbreakingly endearing as swaggering Fraz.

If a few moments -- a wagon journey here, a catwalk costume change there -- aren’t quite as tight as in previous outings, it’s a very minor quibble. As ever, the huge physical commitment of the cast is showcased in the closing military drills, and it’s fitting that the final sound of a show that does so much to humanise its soldiers is not that of bombing or bagpipes or barked orders, but that of their breathing.


Romeo and Juliet, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper


Arriving just as new term starts for this generation’s allegedly finest minds, the timing of Tony Cownie’s production of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers tragedy couldn’t be better. Because when love-lorn Romeo, big-talking Mercutio and and handsome Benvolio gatecrash the Capulets’ posh party, it’s as if they’re a gang of thrusting but wet-behind-the-ears freshers on a bender and intent on spreading their seed. By this time they’re already en route to creating something monumental, as the empty plinth centre-stage of Neil Murray’s bombed-out set, that becomes both wedding bed and grave in a fractured kingdom, indicates. The crucifixion image at the back of the stage, meanwhile, suggests the divide that fuels the play is something much bigger than purely familial.

Juliet’s first entrance on a child’s scooter points up just how the assorted courtships and subsequent emotional dramas she becomes party to are merely a big game that become a matter of life and death by accident. With a pushy mother who only wants a Hello! magazine society wedding, this daddy’s girl’s rebellion is set from the off.

The danger of casting actors of the calibre of Liam Brennan and Cara Kelly in such senior roles as Juliet’s parents is that the play runs the risk of becoming about the grown-ups. Steven McNicoll’s Tweedle-Deeish buffoonery in the relatively minor role of the Capulets messenger Peter also threatens to upstage the leads. Fortunately, Kirsty Mackay and, especially, Will Featherstone rise to the occasion with aplomb in a chic affair that isn’t shy of under-cutting some of the play’s more sacred set-pieces in a quietly ambitious if, at times, underwhelming production.


Scottish Ballet: Geometry and Grace, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


A lone figure -- Tama Barry -- moves through semi-darkness, holding what looks like a cluster of balloons. They’re actually paper birds and when, moments later, they whirl upwards, this wonderful opening image sets the perfect mood for Still Life, Val Caniparoli’s lovely new work for Scottish Ballet. Birds become emblematic throughout the piece: they drift down in occasional flurries, like echoes of passing years or hopes that failed to fly, even as the fall of a single bird hints at a mortality common to all living things.

Caniparoli’s choreography responds to the quirks and shifts of Elena Kats-Chernin’s chamber pieces -- Still Life and A-Void-Ance, played live -- with moves that meld moments of aspirational flight with grounded humanity. Arms that strive to be wings will, like the athletically leaping bodies, find solace, briefly, in the interdependence of other limbs. For Barry, it’s in a fierce, fine partnership with Sophie Martin while Eve Mutso’s fabulously long legs twine round Owen Thorne like an anchoring promise. Everything -- costumes, lighting, music, dance -- comes together with a sheen of brilliance, a depth of thought that is both poetic and emotive.

Page’s Fearful Symmetries now fits the company like a bespoke skin. Erik Cavallari unleashes a lava flow of thrillingly-honed technique as he engages with three different muses: Eve Mutso, Sophie Martin and Tomomi Sato, the last having already delighted us with a pert performance in Ashton’s Scenes de ballet. And if the Theatre Royal stage cramps the geometric style of Ashton’s choreography, the company rose above such limitations with dazzling precision. A triple bill to savour and cherish: catch it in Edinburgh this week.


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