ANGUS MCPHEE - Weaver of Grass


ANGUS MCPHEE or MACPHEE was a crofter from Uist who spent almost 50 years in a Highland psychiatric hospital. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he wove a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.

This blog follows the progress of HORSE + BAMBOO THEATRE as they develop and tour a show about Angus....

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Angus is resting...


The Angus - Weaver of Grass set has now been carefully stored away; our technical equipment has been filleted out from the staging and the props and is ready for re-use in Red Riding Hood and other future productions. In the course of doing these things we have also measured and sorted everything in case the next journey for the show is to Canada.

Esther has reported back from her trip to Nova Scotia and we're very excited about the prospect of the show crossing the Atlantic. Of course this isn't a straightforward thing to do - funding for the travel has to be found, and a decision has to be made about how the large elements of the set - mainly the woodwork - are transported. Jonny has started doing some work on this - and the solution will be to rebuild them in Canada in advance of the tour. But by who? Do we send someone over, or do we find someone to do the job for us? The job isn't totally straightforward because as anybody who has seen 'Angus' knows, everything is at odd angles! Fortunately we do  have old friends Anne and Brad, of Shadowland Theatre, living and working on Ward's Island in Toronto, and perhaps they would know how we could do this? I've written...

Meanwhile our attention turns to other projects while the actors/performers have moved away to other things, although Jonny Quick and Mark Whitaker are both involved in soon-to-happen H+B shows. 

For now there's lot of work for Esther to do, seeing if she can move forward the idea of the east Canadian tour (plus there's interest in Germany too), and the memories and friendships that were made these two past summers in Scotland.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The final show


Last night was the final show of the 2013 tour of Angus - Weaver of Grass. Nice to have it at home, in our theatre at the Boo, and with a sold-out show. The cast had driven up from London after a busy few days on tour. But everyone got down to business and did, for one last time, the big job of unloading and setting up the show.






Theatre shows are organic things, and 'Angus' is no different to any other in this respect. The last time we did the show at the Boo it was the Preview, before it went off on its epic tour. Now it has returned, and the comparison with Joanne B Kaar's wonderful replica weavings seems apt. It, and they, have gained a real patina and character, now possessing a rich lived-in quality. But it (and Joanne's weavings) are also fraying slightly at a few of the seams; small holes are appearing from the physical battering - objects strewn and pushed around the stage; hasty changes backstage and discarded puppets thrown in piles - that they get at every performance. If the tour was to continue this would be the time to allow a few days of rest and repairs, a little rehearsal and some sea-air....but in reality it's actually the final show and, importantly, the magic is still coming through and the audience are left transformed. 


So my congratulations and thanks to a really exceptional cast - Mark, Mel, Jordanna and Jonny, and let's all hope that Angus gets another outing another day.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Tioraidh




The 2013 tour of Scotland with Angus - Weaver of Grass has just ended, and the company are now heading south for shows in Oxford and London.

"Exceptional piece of theatre!! Well worth watching - thought-provoking all the way through" 17.10.13

I've spent just a couple of weeks with the tour, spread over two months, so I've only experienced a small part of life on the road with the show. But everywhere I went, at least, I was astonished by the warmth of the audiences and the positive reactions to, and interest in, our show. The audiences were usually large - we've often commented that arriving at a hall stuck seemingly on its own in a remote location, with hardly a dwelling in site, it's hard at first to picture where an audience would come from, let alone have one. Then, 30 minutes before the show is advertised one or two people arrive, and these are followed by strings of cars arriving from all directions and, with 5 minutes to go, the hall has miraculously filled to capacity. 

"Totally stunning, with a richness that depicted an extraordinary life, an amazing gift, while at the same time revealing the pain of mental illness. It was also a story of a sister's love and of coming home - wonderful - breathtaking." 18.10.13

The performing team have been unfailingly impressive too. Remaining cheerful even when confronted by those moment-to-moment problems that inevitably emerge when you're trying to fit a large and complex show into a new space every few days. Touring is tough - long days and nights; unable to get home for weeks on end; surviving on a diet of macaroni cheese pies and sweeties, and so it's good to see a group making the best of it. 

"All produced in a manner, with a reflectiveness, worthy of its subject, much to ponder and much from which to take heart." 18.10.13

Thanks also to Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig for the support they've given us and their faith in 'Angus', and to the promoters and venues throughout Scotland that have welcomed the show to their spaces. My impression is that they were seldom left disappointed. 

"Poignant, beautiful and very emotive. A fantastic production." 18.10.13

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

New Scotland

Angus - Weaver of Grass prepares for its three final 2013 shows in Scotland; these happen to be in Paisley (presented by Weaving Musical Threads, in association with the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and The Royal National Mod).

Meanwhile Esther Ferry-Kennington, our wonderful Producer, is in Nova Scotia at the Celtic Colours Festival, discussing the possibility of the show crossing the Atlantic.


Seems an odd place, where Truro is 60 or 70 miles north of Halifax, which is 100 miles north of Liverpool...still the hospitality, she tells me, is wonderful - and there's lots of interest in the idea! Exciting stuff.

Nova Scotia of course has plenty of connections with Scotland (the clue is in the name) and the Gaelic language/cultural connections are very strong...


So who know - maybe next year? But for now get on over to Paisley Arts Centre at 7.30pm this coming Thursday or Friday, and 2.00pm on Saturday for your last chance to catch Angus - Weaver of Grass, before it crosses the border and heads to London, via Oxford.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The gentle weaver

I'm just back from a short trip to Inverness - meaning two days and one night. The reason was to join Karrie Marshall (founder of Creativity in Care and author of the recently published Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy) in a guided walk round the grounds of what remains of Craig Dunain Hospital, where Angus MacPhee spent 50 years of his life, and where he began his weaving with grass.The walk was part of SMHAFF (Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival). Karrie had been involved at the very beginning of this 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' adventure because soon after I had decided that I wanted to create a show about Angus MacPhee she met with our Producer and (then) CEO Helen, who were looking at the feasibility of a tour, and showed them Craig Dunain and gave them an introduction to Angus's life there. 

Yesterday, we met at the duckpond...


...which Karrie said was one of the favourite places for the inmates/patients. I could see why. The hospital was set in 200 acres of grounds, but the pond was in a part not too far from the main building so people could easily walk to it. Craig Dunain was self-sufficient in many ways, with its own piggeries, cow herds and farms. It was on one of these, Kinmylies Farm, that Angus worked and showed his prowess at working with animals.

Here's Karrie arriving...


We met at 6pm - I had arrived early, but it soon turned out that 5 of us in total were joining Karrie on the walk. It had also turned very cold and by the end Karrie's hands were too cold to hand out the inevitable feed-back forms we were asked to complete. 

Karrie started by giving us a brief introduction to the history of asylums and the care system in Scotland, and of Craig Dunain in particular. Which, at the moment, looks like this:



A small part of the site has been made into smart housing, and there's a housing estate on part of the grounds, but the paraphernalia of flags and site offices that was there when I last visited 18 months ago had gone - all victims, I imagine, of the recession. 

After seeing the ruins of the old hospital we went back into the woods, and it was now too dark for much more photography. We passed the pet cemetery, and walked to the old paupers cemetery, which is now gradually returning back to nature...



Karrie showed us photographs of hospital life and, teeth chattering, we conversed sharing memories and stories, and talked of Angus. How people remembered him as a gentle giant, a man who seemed content - in his own way, how in the early days he worked wearing the woven grass clothes of his own manufacture, how he was able to collect potatoes even wearing heavy grass mittens, and how these kept him warm, while the other inmates - like us - probably just shivered. 

The hour passed quickly and then Karrie gave me a lift back into Inverness and so to my hotel, to eat, warm up, and enjoy a few drams. A very special and worthwhile visit in memory of Angus MacPhee, the gentle weaver; something I'll remember for a long time.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A break...


Above, the 'man of grass' image from Angus - Weaver of Grass, with Mel Deans and Jordanna O'Neill. 

Yesterday's return shows (we played there at the Festival Fringe) at Edinburgh's Scottish Storytelling Centre are over, and Mark, Mel, Jonny and Jordanna - the four members of the touring team - now have a few days well deserved break. These last shows were part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival (SMHAFF) and our next few shows too, starting at Eden Court One Touch Centre in Inverness on Saturday12th will also be part of the festival.

Mark Whitaker messaged me to say that the matinee show yesterday was almost full, and the evening show was sold out. He also mentioned that, briefly, the mains supply to our backstage computer got knocked and disconnected during the evening show. Given this controls our sound and video it can have a pretty big impact on the performance - still Mark said that they (the cast) 'covered well' and all was quickly back under control. Something to try to avoid, certainly, but I do have sympathy as I've seen the size of the backstage area at the SSC - less than one metre width to change and move about in, and given that the performers are sometimes moving about backstage wearing masks and suits of woven grass, it's so easy to catch a cable or one of the other hazards lurking behind the set. Mark went on to say the feedback was excellent, and I've now just read the Comments Book and I'm amazed, delighted and humbled by what people are saying about the show. 

Worth pointing out too that 17th-19th October, Thursday to Saturday, will be the last opportunity to see our show this year in Scotland, when we're at Paisley Art Centre and there's a jamboree of events centred around Angus MacPhee - Joanne B  Kaar, Roger Hutchinson are involved with workshops, book signings, and more including a showing of Nick Higgins film 'Hidden Gifts'. Sounds like an amazing end to our Scottish tour; click the link to find out more from the Weaving Musical Threads site - Angus in Paisley, which also includes information about additional venues for Angus-related events.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Comments on 'Angus - Weaver of Grass'

Photo:Tim Bradley

A small selection from our Comments Book since my last blog:

STRACATHRO HALL, INCHBARE:

"What a powerful and moving production. I must learn Gaelic before I die. Thanks for coming to Angus."

"This was an amazing and touching story and the way it was performed was beautiful. Five stars!"

"Mesmerising performance, the singing both mellifluous and beautifully haunting. Thank you for such an intimate portrayal of an intriguing man."

AROS CENTRE, PORTREE, SKYE

"Fantastic. The best thing I've seen in a long, long time."

"A beautiful story brought to life - a brilliant performance - very powerfully told."

"Wonderful. Beautifully portrayed. You brought tears to my eyes again. *****."

"Beautiful and inventive - I love the puppetry. Can't imagine a better way to tell a story. Thank you for a unique experience."

OBAN PHOENIX:

"Spectacularly conveys the dreadful feelings Angus must have felt after leaving S. Uist. BRILLIANT performance interpretation."

"Amazing emotional and compelling journey. Fantastic use of different media beautifully combined. Loved the singing especially."

"What a story and what a performance. The cast and crew are to be congratulated on telling the story so well and involving the audience in the whole experience. Moran Taing!"

"This was proper theatre - what an experience. Visually stunning."