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....

Monday, 28 February 2011

A week's break... and such a lot happens

I'm back after a week's half-term break in Dorset, during which time I mulled over the current script in the light of the work Alison and I had done the previous week, when we erected a (very) temporary stage and looked at the setting for the production. It's always far easier for me to picture how a script will work once a staging layout has been clarified.

As a result a number of significant changes have been made - clarifying the filmed and animated sections; adding a large horse puppet at two important parts of the story; changing a 'story within a story' section in order to help the narrative; and adding some new visual twists and turns. I discussed this new version with Alison this morning and I've now sent off copies to our main collaborators. 

Alison has tonsillitis and went home early, preparing to think about the Rashin Coatie story we're incorporating into the show. She clearly had been doing some research because within a few hours she sent me a link to another blog - (which unfortunately seems to have dried up in 2008). The blog was written by Jumaadi, an Indonesian living in Australia whose father taught him how to make puppets from grass when he was 6:

During this period Esther travelled north, meeting Joyce Laing once more at the Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem, Fife, and further discussing how we can use Joyce's knowledge of Angus and her collection of his work; as well as the possibility of using her voice as a 'narrator' within the show. Esther also saw the National Theatre of Scotland's 'The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart' which she raved about, and visited The Maltings in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. All this in the course of developing contacts and links for a potential tour of the Angus show.

Friday, 11 February 2011


This is the (very) rough set Alison and I have created in our workshop. We've done this in order  to work out the heights and levels we'll need as playing areas, and from that in turn we've worked out what size of puppets we'll need to make. In the course of doing this we were also able to decide on a number of other things - so the upper level (above the bar) will be a crawl floor which will enable us to operate marionettes from that level; equally we liked this unbleached, stained, fabric quality (Anselm Kiefer again). Each of the cloths can act as a screens for projections, film and lights, so much of the eventual colour we use in the production will achieved through the use of light and projection.

The whole exercise was an excuse, too, to go through the script and look at, in a very broad brush-stroke way, how the story would unfold on a stage. Doing this, a number of things were - as ever - changed, or added to. 

As a result of this work we have been able to prioritise the jobs we'll start on (next week). Alison on a puppet of Angus as a boy and a similar 'sister' puppet. I'll start making three masks representing Angus - one as a handsome young man, one in middle-age, and one as an old man. I'll also be able to send the dimensions of the set to Chris Spears on Berneray so he can create the wood frames that will enable us to reproduce this rough, full-size, 'model' set in the Community Hall on the island. The other piece of news was hearing, last night, that the hall committee have agreed to hire us their hall for a week in May.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Work begins..

Images from Deep Time Cabaret 2008

Work on Angus started last week; though slowly. Alison and I found two half-days to talk about the script, and Esther is in Scotland, starting to talk about a tour of the show. Next week we'll clear out our workshop and start for real - making a space for a stage area, and beginning perhaps to make puppets and masks.

We spent a lot of the time talking about the set; about how it might work; its feel and its look. I brought in a book about the work of Anselm Kiefer, the German painter whose work I admire. I hope that the set will have the feel of some of his work - the worn, tired but not exhausted look of it. In particular it'll be about how the films will work projected onto the stage cloths. Not using pristine and taut sheets, but slightly tainted and knocked around fabric, combined with rich black and white film. It emerged from our discussions that the design should use colour carefully, placing occasional rich textures against a general muted monochrome, and using straw or grasses among muds and dust as a playing floor.

One of our starting points is the set for 'Deep Time Cabaret', a show that we developed for touring in 2008. The subject and approach will be very different, but there is something about the organic way the DTC set (above) developed - the mixture of simple forms, rough fabric drapes, and projections, that will be similar to the Angus work. We will also use suspended lamps, hand-held cameras and levels within the stage that can be easily transformed by the cast.