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Black Watch play rejected by Edinburgh Festival

Black Watch is based on interviews with soldiers who served in Iraq. Picture: Jon Savage

Black Watch is based on interviews with soldiers who served in Iraq. Picture: Jon Savage

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

IT HAS played to almost a quarter of a million people across four continents and won more than 20 awards.

But seven years after it was launched to a string of five-star reviews, it has emerged Black Watch was rejected by the Edinburgh International Festival.

The National Theatre of Scotland, which had a huge hit with one of its first productions, had wanted to see Gregory Burke’s play – based on real-life interviews with soldiers who had served in Iraq – staged at the flagship event.

But the theatre company, which is currently staging the show before huge crowds at the SECC in Glasgow, has revealed it was branded “too parochial” by then Festival director Sir Brian McMaster when it was in development in 2006, his final year at the helm.

Neil Murray, the company’s executive producer, said it was the theatrical equivalent of the Beatles being rejected before their career took off.

The following year the EIF had a hit with the world premiere of an NTS production of The Bacchae, which saw Alan Cumming return from Hollywood to take on the role.

Sir Brian told The Scotsman he did not regret turning down the play, insisting it was already going to be staged that year at the Fringe.

Speaking at a debate at the Traverse Theatre, Mr Murray said: “I adore Brian McMaster. He has been a very good friend to me, both when I was at the Tron Theatre and also at the National Theatre of Scotland.

“But we originally wanted to do Black Watch at the Edinburgh International Festival and he famously said to us, ‘It is too parochial a story, no-one will get it.’

“Now, around 45 international cities on, it is slightly the theatrical version of not signing the Beatles.”

The Festival did end up working with NTS on a different production in 2006, Realism, a play commissioned from a previous EIF collaborator writer-director, Anthony Neilson.

Black Watch was premiered in Edinburgh University Drill Hall in August 2006 and took the Fringe by storm. The Scotsman praised its “breath­taking theatrical brilliance” and “ground-shaking energy”.

The following year it toured Scotland, to Pitlochry, Aberdeen, Dumfries, Dingwall and Glasgow, and was staged in Los Angeles and New York within a little over a year. It has since gone on tour to Australia, New Zealand, Chicago, Washington, Toronto and South Korea, and is due to take to the road again to Seattle and San Francisco over the next few months.

Sir Brian told The Scotsman the Festival had helped NTS find a venue for Black Watch.

“The reason it was turned down for the Festival was because it was already going to be staged. NTS had already commissioned it. It meant we could commission another production, Realism, so two shows got to happen rather than just the one.

“I didn’t see a script for Black Watch, but I thought it was a great idea for a show. Of course, I saw it at the time and it was quite wonderful, but I don’t regret anything at all.”

There is no place in this year’s Festival for the NTS in the final programme overseen by Vicky Featherstone before her departure as artistic director at the end of last year.

EIF director Jonathan Mills told The Scotsman last month that this was down to the hiatus between the departure of Ms Featherstone and the arrival of her replacement, Laurie Sansom.

 

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