John Tiffany's terrific production for the National Theatre of Scotland is based on Gregory Burke's series of interviews with former servicemen. The language is foul but it's never gratuitous it's the way the young lads speak. Eight hundred men from the Black Watch were posted to "the triangle of death" in Iraq to replace 4,000 American troops. Their main complaint was that they didn't know what they were dying for. They didn't want to be a police force and hated having to face suicide bombers, mortar attacks and ambushes on a daily basis and not being allowed to fight back. The production, thrillingly choreographed by Stephen Hoggett, is finely acted by an excellent and exceptionally fit ensemble, which is expected to do everything at the double. The action carries not only a theatrical punch but also a political punch and it will do more to win hearts and minds in Britain than any political propaganda.
The Barbican is sold out, but surely it shouldn't be too difficult to find another venue. The actors don't need a theatre they just need a space. They have already performed in a drill hall, a hydro-electric laboratory, a warehouse and a train factory. Black Watch is one of the major theatrical events of the decade and deserves as wide an 'midience as possible.
Patrick Hamilton (19041927) is best known for two plays, Rope (1929) and Gaslight (1938), both of which have been filmed, the former by Alfred Hitchcock. Gaslight has actually been filmed twice, once in England and once in Hollywood. But it is his forgotten novel Hangover Square (I 941) which is generally thought to be his masterpiece. The story, which has been adapted by Fidelis Morgan for the stage, is set in seedy Earl's Court just prior to World War Two and describes an alcoholic's infatuation for a beautiful actress who treats him abominably. Everybody knows she's a bad lot and that he should walk away but he can't and keeps coming back for more humiliation until he finally decides to kill her and go and live in Maidenhead.
The tiny and claustrophobic Finborough Theatre, which actually is in Earl's Court, is the perfect venue. Gemma Fairlie's hallucinatory production and the acting are first-rate. The actors, with their tiny moustaches, all look as if they have just stepped out of the 1930s. The designer, Alex Marker, achieves miracles in a minuscule space. Matthew Flynn is terribly convincing in the lead role. Two actresses play the amoral actress; one is real, the other is inside the hero's head, egging him on to murder. Caroline Faber and Clare Calbraith keep swapping roles, which may be OK for a disturbed alcoholic who is going round the bend, but it does tend to be confusing for the audience. You may feel you want a drink afterwards.
Moonlight and Magnolias
Ron Hutchinson's satire on Hollywood is an excellent pastiche of a typical 1930s screwball comedy. The story is based on fact. Producer David 0 Selznick, having bought the film rights of Margaret Mitchell's bestselling novel Gone with the Wind, auditioned practically every major movie star before deciding on Vivien Leigh. The play opens when he has already been through 17 screenwriters, including F Scott Fitzgerald, and in desperation approaches the talented and expensive Ben Hecht, famed playwright of The Front Page. The only trouble is that Hecht hasn't read the book and has only five days to spare. Since there certainly isn't time to read 1,037 pages, Selznick locks the door of his office and he and his director, Victor Fleming, act out the whole story for Hecht while he bashes away at the typewriter. Andy Newman is absolutely hilarious as Selznick.