Black Watch at the Barbican

Wow. I caught Black Watch – a touring production of a National Theatre of Scotland play – at London’s Barbican Theatre last night. It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

Black Watch focuses on the Scottish regiment of that name. It tells the story of some young Scots who’ve recently been in Iraq and, in doing so, explains the history of the regiment, its proud traditions, and the impact on it of the most recent conflict. It also tells a story we’ve seen many times before in film and book – what it means to be a young soldier – but in a way that’s not too heavy-handed. It was mainly dramatic but also had song, dance, video, and structures: a lot was packed into a small space. It was as foul-mouthed as young Scottish men in a warzone are likely to be. It was tense and funny and historical and human.

Black Watch has received enormous critical acclaim in its tour around the world (Australia, the US, Canada, and other places). It’s been hugely anticipated here, and tickets for the entire run sold out really quickly. There was a large line of people hoping for returns last night.

Black Watch at the Barbican

More Jesus

I got my culture on last night by heading over to Islington and the King’s Head. This is a cool old pub with a small theatre at the back. It’s actually the second London pub I ever walked into, so I get some nostalgia whenever I go back in. I think it’s cool that there’s a small, laid-back, well-known, but definitely off-West End theatre space like this, though. I saw one other play here a few years back, a Sylvia Plath* piece (for which I was glad I didn’t pay for the ticket).

Last night’s production was called Fat Christ. It’s a little, one-room, four-person comedy. It came to my attention when the Underground refused to carry posters advertising the play for fear it might offend some customers. The production’s other claim to fame is that one of the actors is former ultra-popular glamour model / sex tape subject / reality TV star Abi Titmuss. Abi’s on the road to respectability, it seems, having won the West End’s Best Newcomer award last year for her part in an Arthur Miller play.

Fat Christ, though, was uninspiring. The acting was okay, if a bit forced, although the play provides a sort of reason why this might be the case. The written material was, itself, pretty weak, I thought. It boils down to: lads are a bit crude when they get together, relationships take work, and some people have hare-brained ideas. Also, calling it a “comedy” is a bit of a stretch, I think.

Better was Itsuka, a sushi restaurant down the road. It was nearly empty, but we managed a nice, quiet, comfortable meal there.

*For some reason, whenever I need to recall the name “Sylvia Plath” I always initially think of “Edith Piaf” and need to work hard to shift off that name.