Black Watch director admits he feared it was going to 'ruin' theatre company

Black Watch was a huge hit for the National Theatre of Scotland in its first year.

Black Watch was a huge hit for the National Theatre of Scotland in its first year.

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Award-winning director John Tiffany was worried he was going to kill off the National Theatre of Scotland in its first year with the play Black Watch - which instead became a global phenomenon.

Speaking in a BBC Scotland documentary to mark the company’s tenth anniversary, Tiffany said he feared the show based on interviews with former soldiers from the disbanded regiment would be the “ruin” of NTS because of the unconventional way their stories would be told on stage.

Tiffany asked playwright Gregory Burke to create a “collage” of excerpts from the interviews for a show which would be set in Fife, where many of the soldiers were drawn from, and Iraq. These were to be married with traditional music, song and movement when the play was premiered at an old drill hall in Edinburgh in August 2006.

Vicky Featherstone, NTS’s inaugural artistic director, reveals how the creation of Black Watch was inspired on the very first day of her job.

She tells the documentary: “When I started I went downstairs to get the papers. On the front page of one was an article saying that Tony Blair was trying to disband the Black Watch regiment. On page three there was a little story about two young men from the Black Watch regiment who had been killed in Iraq and what this meant to their community.

“Theatre is about the gap between two things. I thought: if ever there is a possibility of a piece of theatre that is it.”

Tiffany tells the documentary, A Dramatic Decade, which is being shown at 9pm on Tuesday: “I thought we would be the ruin of the National Theatre of Scotland, genuinely. I found myself in a rehearsal room having said to Greg: ‘You can do these interviews in Fife with six soldiers who have just come back from a tour of Iraq. But I want to do a collage, so that it’s not a kind of traditionally-structured new play.’

“I’m so glad we were able to honour those lads. It is very deep in my soul as something which I feel honoured to have been able to tell their story.”

Featherstone adds: “John really was somebody that celebrated those Scottish traditions in the music. He was consciously bringing all those things that he felt were so important, and were actually slightly waning at the time because they were no longer fashionable, into Black Watch.

“We watched one of the first run-throughs. I choke up saying it now because I sat there and thought: ‘My god - something has happened which makes me believe in theatre again.’”

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