War through a soldier’s eyes

“Black Watch” has been taking audiences by storm ever since its 2006 debut at Scotland’s Edinburgh
Festival.

Based on interviews with Scottish soldiers returning from the war in Iraq, the National Theatre of Scotland’s high-octane multimedia production combines movement, music, video and dialogue to create an urgent, often harrowing theater piece told from the soldiers’ point of view.

“It’s very uncompromising,” says choreographer Steven Hoggett, who created the show’s movement sequences.  “It doesn’t allow you to sit on the fence.  It’s very visceral, and I think it’s provocative, in the best sense of the word.”

A surprise hit in Edinburgh, “Black Watch” has gone on to play on three continents and garner 22 awards.  This month, the American Conservatory Theater presents its much-anticipated Northern California premiere.  Directed by John Tiffany, a Tony Award winner for the musical “Once,” the show will be performed in the Drill Court at the Armory Community Center, located in the Mission district.

The show draws on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke with soldiers of the “Black Watch,” the legendary Scottish regiment dating back to the early 18th century. The regiment was called into duty in Iraq in 2004.

For Hoggett, the show was an opportunity to portray the stark reality of war in stylized movement.  The choreographer, who is artistic director of the U.K. dance company Frantic Assembly, and who collaborated with Tiffany on the musical “Once,” says the challenge was telling a highly charged, emotional story in physical terms.
“These men are lost, they’re bored, they’re terrified,” he says. “They’re tough, they’re very male.  At the same time, I wanted to show that they had feelings, because they do. They have mums, sons and daughters, and lovers back home.”  

Hoggett notes that when “Black Watch” premiered in 2006, it was expected to close in a month.  He is glad to finally present the show in San Francisco — but says he has mixed feelings about its continued success.  

“Even today, three soldiers from the U.K. died in Helmand province,” he says. “Sadly, this year has brought more deaths than last year, and we’re not even halfway through.  When we created the show, we hoped it would be a historical piece.  But it’s still timely.”

If You Go

“Black Watch”

Presented by American Conservatory Theater                                                                                                     

Where: Drill Court at Mission Armory, 333 14th St., (between Mission and Valencia streets), S.F.
Tickets:  $100
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 16
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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