Friday October 20th 2017

“Black Watch”

Chicago Shakespeare Theater brings us marvelous works of the classics and lately some spectacular musical productions, in addition to their Shakespeare productions. In 2011, as a part of their “World’s Stage Production” series, they brought in a production by The National Theatre of Scotland”-“Black Watch”, written by Gregory Burke, and now this thrilling theatrical experience has been brought back so that more Chicago audiences have the opportunity to share the experience that some of have had twice. As they did in their previous visit, they are performing this stunning production at Chicago’s Broadway Armory located in the Edgewater community at 5917 N. Broadway. This space was used for military training by the State of Illinois during World War I, so it is very fitting that is be used by this troupe to present a play that deals with a story made up of interviews with soldiers, members of The Black Watch who served in Iran. Burke’s interviews with these men about how they lived and fought as they prepared to go home gives us an in-depth look into each of the characters in this legendary regiment’s experience, including a segment that through music and very clever staging gives us a complete history of their founding and why they in fact exist. I must tell you that this segment alone is well worth the price of a ticket, but there is a whole lot more!

The credit for direction goes to John Tiffany, but along with Associate Director ( movement) Steven Hoggett is listed), but to be hones, the movement in this 1 hour forty five minutes ( no intermission) is more choreographed than directed. Remember, we are in an Armory- a large cavern of a building where audience members are seated on two sides. While the set-up is bleacher style risers, the seats are “chairs”, padded and comfy chairs, so there is no distraction from the action on the “stage”. The sides ( to our right and left) are where the actors emerge from wither a tank type door or a curtain with stairs and levels that have other uses, one of which ( at the very next to last scene) is mind boggling. Laura Hopkins’ set is clever with a pool table that is a true “wonder”. There are also some great videos ( Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer) and sound(Gareth Fry) that allows for us to hear every word, clearly. Speaking of words, please be advised that these are the words of soldiers who were asked to assist in a war that had nothing to do with them. In fact, one of the quotes is “We are NOT defending OUR Country, we are INVADING theirs”, so there is a great deal of use of the “F” word as well as another word for a female’s anatomy part. After a few minutes of hearing these words over and over , they begin to be just language and the shock wears off. That is when we truly get into each of the men and their experiences.

The story takes place, at the start in a pub, where the former soldiers are meeting to have a drink, shoot some pool and watch a “Futbal” game as  Burke’s alter ego, the wirter begins. We then go back and forth into their lives and what the war and The Black Watch meant to them. During these sequences, there are many costume changes ( Jessica Brettle) and some wonderful music ( folk and battle-type anthems) with some solid lighting effects(Colin Grenfell), but the key to making this story come alive is the energy and talent of the cast led by the Fletcher brothers, Ryan ( as Cammy) and Scott ( as Kenzie). Robert Jack handles the writer, as well as The Sergeant, and the other cast members are Chris Starkie, Adam McNamara,Stephen McCole,Andrew Fraser, Cameron Barnes,Gavin Jon Wright and Richard Rankin ( who takes us through the history of The Black Watch to set the tone of the theatrical experience). This is indeed an experience that you will remember and certainly give you cause to think about the devotion that these men have to their country, their families, the world and of most importance, each other! In the final scene, as they march to the bagpipes ( Cameron Barnes is a true master) and do their marching routines, we witness the true devotion and hearts and souls of these special men. This is the place where a tear may just fall from your eye- don’t let that bother you, it should!

“Black Watch” will continue at the Broadway Armory through October 21st . Tickets range from $38-$52.To order your tickets or see more info on dates, times, etc. visit www.chicagoshakes.com or call312-595-5600.

There is street/metered and some not parking, valet parking and bus service (36 Broadway) at the door.

To see more, go to my home page, click on theatreinchicago, go to review round-up and click on “Black Watch”

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