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Searing Iraq war play takes Edinburgh by storm

Written by: Staff

EDINBURGH, Aug 24 (Reuters) Scotland's fledgling National Theatre has turned an unofficial account of the famous Black Watch regiment into a searing comment on Britain's involvement in Iraq as well as a smash hit at the Edinburgh Festival.

The two-hour play is based on interviews Scottish playwright Gregory Burke conducted with young Black Watch soldiers on their experiences in Iraq, and why some were leaving the army.

None of the 10-man cast, headed by Glasgow actor Brian Ferguson, have been soldiers, but their performances were etched with emotions running from macho barrack-room humour to longing for letters from home.

''We wanted to give a voice to the boys who have been fighting this war out in Iraq and to give a voice to their experience,'' director John Tiffany told Reuters.

''This is very much showing a warts-and-all experience. They're not angels.'' The production has played to sell-out audiences and standing ovations, which took the cast by surprise.

The Scotland on Sunday newspaper described Black Watch as ''a glorious piece of theatre, raw, truthful, uncomfortable, political, funny, moving , graceful and dynamic''.

The production, in a cavernous army drill hall, opens to the skirl of the bagpipes.

It switches from a pub in Fife, a traditional recruiting area for the Black Watch, to action in the field -- and a hilarious potted history of the regiment, which was raised in 1725 to control unruly Scottish clans.

The regiment's soldiers were renowned for their courage in both world wars as well as the Napoleonic and Boer conflicts. The Black Watch was amalgamated with other Scottish regiments earlier this year, despite opposition from veterans.

With an economy of scenery, the pub snooker table in the play doubles as a Warrior armoured troop carrier.

War action centres on the deployment of the Black Watch to the U.S. Marine base of Camp Dogwood on the southern fringe of Baghdad in 2004 to free marines for an attack on Iraqi insurgents in the town of Falluja.

The soldiers were met at Camp Dogwood by mortar and gunfire, and within days a suicide bomber killed three of the soldiers and an interpreter.

The play dismisses as farcical the insistence by Britain's then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon that the deployment was purely military, with no political connotations.

At the time, Hoon was accused by a Scottish parliamentarian of moving the troops to the camp in order to help in the re-election of US President George W Bush.

Characters in the play also question exactly what their role in Iraq was meant to be.

Burke said the soldiers he interviewed felt the government had deceived them.

Tiffany added: ''When they came back, they were not really bathed in glory, but more pushed aside and forgotten.'' He plans to take Black Watch on tour in Scotland, including a production at the regiment's historic headquarters of Perth, and was in discussion on further tour possibilities.


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