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, 29 December 2012

Memories - the Scots Trad Awards

Seeing the highlights of the Scots Trad Awards 2012 on BBC Alba last night brought the past year back to me in a big way. 

When I visited Berneray in 2011 friends were raving about an album that had been released a few years earlier and which they recommended as a great introduction to a singer from South Uist - Òg-Mhadainn Shamhraidh (Summer Dawn), by Kathleen MacInnes. Thinking about the way that I would use music from Uist in the show about Angus MacPhee was very much on my mind at that time and I promptly drove down to Benbecula to buy a copy. After that it remained on my car CD player for most of the next year, and Kathleen's voice and music was an inspiration throughout the period of devising 'Angus - Weaver of Grass'. So last night I was delighted to see that Kathleen's latest album Cille Bhride (Kilbride) had won the Album of the Year Award. 

Another connection that brought that period when the Angus production was in its preparatory stages back to me was seeing, at the Awards, Linda Macleod who helped me during our auditions for a Gaelic singer at the CCA in Glasgow. 

Linda was one of the co-hosts of the Alba broadcast, and she interviewed Kathleen after winning the album award. Linda was a great support for me and the Horse + Bamboo team during our audition process; helping by explaining the nuances of local Gaelic and very much at ease with all the brilliant and talented musicians we had the privilege to meet. Of course it was here that we were fortunate to meet Mairi Morrison who ultimately became such an important part in making our production a success, as well as becoming a key member of the Horse + Bamboo touring company. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Some brilliant news...

As everyone in the Horse + Bamboo office and workshop is beginning to wind down for our Christmas and New Year break we hear some totally brilliant email this morning from Creative Scotland letting us know that they are going to support a second tour of 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' in 2013. 

What a great piece of news to send us off on our holidays....! 

Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr (hope we got that right).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A full-length film

It's the 24th of the month - so it's time for an update! Actually the fact that the previous blogs were both done on that day is entirely coincidental. 

I've started editing together a full-length film of 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' from filming undertaken at the two Boo shows, and the Square Chapel performance in Halifax. I hope to complete this by the end of next week. It's a joy to watch the performances on film - and I'm quite amazed at how much I can enjoy watching the same pieces over and over while deciding on an edit. Above is our 3-minute trailer - a taster of the performance. 

The news on a future tour is that we're beginning to get bookings - there's a lot of interest in the show out there. But, as ever, there will be a need for some financial subsidy as we can't use any of our Arts Council of England support towards a Scottish tour. Esther tells me that we should know the result of our application to Creative Scotland early in January 2013.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

The end...

Last night the 2012 tour of 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' finished, at the Boo, with another sold out show. The set and props now lay in piles on the floor of our theatre. 

We all had a drink together last night after the show, and this morning I drove Mairi Morrison to her train to Glasgow. She flies to Lewis later in the week. That goodbye made me realise that the tour was finally over. Thank you Mark, Jonny, Frances and Mairi, for your part in making this such a memorable tour, and to Alison, Christina, Esther, Loz, Joanne, Kirsty, Helen, Ellie, Daniella, Chris, Vanessa and the many, many others who all made such a huge contribution to creating this theatre story that has clearly touched so many people. 

A few comments taken almost at random from just the last four days....

  • It was beautiful. At least one of us might have cried. Actually, both of us. A bit.
  • Wasn't it terrific?! Magical.
  • Thank you for your brilliant production in Ardfen last Friday. It made me laugh and moved me to tears. We've enjoyed listening to Mairi's CD over the weekend. Oh and our magic bunnets took us to Craobh Haven and the Tarbert music festival on Saturday so thanks for that too.
  • @HorseandBamboo 's 'Angus, Weaver of Grass' was visually brilliant, terribly moving and left me thinking I could speak Gaelic. Many thanks x
  • So sensitive and beautiful, what a stunning piece of theatre, I was so moved. Everything married up so well, it was wonderful. Thank you.
  • Absolutely brilliant! Right mix of weird and wonderful. Would definitely recommend to friends. Imagery was beautiful. Well done to all those involved.
  • Thank you for that beautiful journey...sad, touching but full of light, life and warmth. Your hard work is appreciated.
  • An incredible story so beautifully told, powerful, emotional and uplifting. Thank you.
  • Magical, innovative, captivating, moving. A beautiful piece of theatre that will linger in the memory forever. Bravo!!
  • Stunning, moving and beautiful. Made my heart beak. Was ace to hear Gaelic; singing was lovely. These stories need telling. Thank you.
  • What a great way to tell a tale. Spellbinding!
  • The most beautiful moving piece of theatre I've seen for a long time.
  • Amazing, wonderful. Thank you. You had me in tears. I have to see the performance again.
  • As a regular theatre goer, this is the most wonderful, magical, moving piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time – beautifully realised, very well paced, so emotional, full of heart. Cannot recommend enough.
So now this blog will go quiet. It won't stop completely - I'll update it when there's something worth telling. In particular on any progress towards another tour of 'Angus' - hopefully in 2013. 

Thank you for following our journey. Tìoraidh an dràsda.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


It was high summer when we set out on our tour - and on the Islands anyway it was a proper summer; blue skies and suchlike - opening on Tiree July 16th. Now we're in England (Sasann) with just 4 shows to go - and Autumn is in the air (hence the photo).

Tonight, we're at the New Continental in Preston at 8.00pm
Tomorrow (Friday) at Square Chapel, Halifax at 8.00pm

Apparently both these venues have plenty of seats left, but best to book in advance, in case (click on the links above to book).

Then on Saturday and Sunday (22nd/23rd) 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' finishes its tour at our base the Boo as part of the Horse and BamBoo Puppet Festival. But both of these shows are fully booked - in fact we're worried about disappointment at the door if people turn up hoping to buy a ticket.


But the really good news is that, after discussions last week with our Scottish partners, it looks as if there's a real enthusiasm to remount another tour next summer. So even though this blog may go quiet, we won't close down completely and promise to post updates on plans for 2013.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


On Sunday I took a train to Thurso, hired a car, and drove the 25 minutes out to Lyth Arts Centre, a quite amazing place created by Willie Wilson. Apparently in the middle of nowhere, it can actually draw an audience from a wide hinterland. Willie is well known and trusted in the Caithness community where his centre sits in farmland half way between Thurso and Wick. 17 years ago Horse + Bamboo arrived at this place with horses and carts, but this time it was in a Transit van. Willie is still very much here, offering his wonderful hospitality and attention to detail - to us certainly, and I'm sure to all the many artists who travel out this way because they know just how special it is.

Our show booked up two weeks ago, and Willie persuaded us to put on an extra performance in the afternoon. Both performances were rapturously received. The photograph below shows Frances and Mairi, in front of Jonny and Mark,  showing masks, puppets and Joanne Kaar's weaving to the audience after the show. Joanne lives 15 minutes drive away from Lyth, so it was lovely for her to be with us - she came to both performances - and for the cast to meet her friends and family.

The day after was a day off for the company before they embarked on a strenuous last leg of the tour. As so often with days off there were a few jobs to do. Not least a repair of a prop - a smouldering sheepskin torch (!) which took most of the morning and half of the evening. But still we took the afternoon out to see the sights - including Dunnet Head, close to Joanne's house in Dunnet. This is the most northerly point on the British mainland. Immediately below the photograph shows Jonny looking across Dunnet Bay to Dunnet Head, and below that the view from Dunnet Head itself - looking west all the way to Cape Wrath.

Then yesterday I left early with everyone else still asleep, and drove to the station to take the early train back home. The picture is Lyth Arts Centre, with the H+B van in the car park, as the sun rose. As you can imagine, I left feeling just a little sad...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The last leg

From the Comments Book at the Scottish Storytelling Centre:
  • One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen. So moving. You thought of every detail. A Mhairi – abair gutt alainn – sgoinneil!
  • Came from Stonehaven just for this show and am so glad! I have never see such a beautiful play – so sensitively produced (even using technology to enhance the dialogue). I do not speak or understand Gaelic but felt every word and gesture. Thank you. Please come to Aberdeen sometimes. 
  • Lovely – scrumptious. Thanks! Loved it…want to come again. 
  • Can’t describe how wonderful this was. One of the best things I’ve ever seen in any format. Thanks is not enough. Magical.
  • Horse and Bamboo do it again! Wonderful. Magical. Totally captivating, moving in extreme. Finely crafted, exquisite…
  • Astonishing story beautifully told. I wept buckets.
  • Just as powerful, just as moving as on your first night in Tiree. So clever, on so many levels – I can’t praise the whole company enough for their sensitivity.
  • Deserves a Fringe Award and every other award going!! Thank you a thousand times and warmest congratulations on a production that reaches the heart of things through an amazing combination of media and modes of presentation, and a company that clearly chime well with each other to convey a true story in a genuine and utterly memorable way.
  • Poetic, beautiful yet heart-breaking. I loved the way you used puppets and masks, music and animation – adding layers to the story and perspectives. Thank you.
  • A truly beautiful production; what a wonderful portraying of an incredibly special man. Extraordinary.
  • Astonishing production. So powerful – we ran the gamut of emotion – laughter and tears. Great multi-media. Bravo!!
  • Superb storytelling – totally absorbing and very moving. A privilege to have seen this!

Now off on the last leg of our 2012 tour; catch Angus - Weaver of Grass while you can!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Full circle

Above, two scenes that became a familiar part of the first leg of our tour. Now, in a few days time, we embark on the third and final leg of taking 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' around the country. On this leg we start way up at Lyth Arts Centre, at the very top of Scotland, not far from John'o'Groats and (far nicer) Dunnet Head. From there we have a few more Scottish shows (but alas no more ferries) and then into England and a handful of shows including an interesting one organised by the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, when we perform in a lecture theatre within the Manchester Royal Infirmary as part of the Arts in Health programme. 

The tour comes to its finish at home - two nights at the Boo in Rossendale as part of the Horse + Bamboo Puppet Festival on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd September. So full circle! Tickets for all of these shows are selling well so make sure that you book seats in advance - I'm told the Lyth show is sold out already and that they could have filled a second night.

Meanwhile, I've been collating information to send to Creative Scotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Arts Council of England as part of the reporting back process. This will be done as soon as the tour is finished, and I'll be sending a report and feedback from the audiences. Doing the latter job has been quite an experience - it's amazing to read just how many people have been deeply affected by the show. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Goodbye to the Fringe!

The Edinburgh Fringe Experience is over - and we survived! In fact interest in the show grew and grew and the final shows were all sell-outs. 

The reactions have continued to be overwhelmingly positive. Standing ovations, comments left in the book, and critical feedback from others. Reviews in festival mags, while generally positive have been more mixed and the 'Total Theatre' critic, while acknowledging a standing ovation at the end of the show, seemed perplexed by the Gaelic and felt confused by the narrative - although this seems a singular response, among the many, many that go out of their way to mention the clarity and ultimate simplicity of the story.

So now the cast have a week or so of holiday, and I get back to planning the future programme with Alison and Esther - until we get back on the road and meet up at the end of next week at Lyth Arts Centre, right at the top of Scotland in Caithness - a venue we first visited in 1983 or thereabouts. It's Joanne B Kaar territory!

One of the perks of the tour has been an excuse to spend time in Scotland again - always a special treat and enhanced this time by the fact that in 2012 the summer weather that southern England normally claims for its own seems to have migrated far northwards. Part of the joy is the travelling around, and the train journeys can be especially magical. The trip to Edinburgh across the famous Forth Road Bridge is one of my all time favourites (above). 

Monday, 20 August 2012

A visit to Edinburgh

The Angus set at the Scottish Storytelling Centre
I'm just back from an eventful, if highly concentrated, visit to Edinburgh this weekend. 

The main reason was to see how 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' had settled into its current home - a 4pm show for 10 days at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. In particular to see how the two main concerns we had (the things I wrote about two blogs ago) were being dealt with, and if they affected the performance. 

The first - the short get in and preparation time allowed us for each show - had already been resolved. The cast, helped by Christina, had easily dealt with this and, given that all of our set could be stored away in close proximity to the stage, it simply wasn't now a problem. 

The second - the effect of the shallow stage on our filmed projections - was having an impact. The central section of the performance, which relied heavily on the films, was noticeably weaker compared to how it had been during the Highlands/Islands leg and the storytelling had lost its tautness as a result. Although Christina's carefully planned back-up mitigates the worst affects of this it doesn't totally solve all the issues. So I spent time Sunday morning looking at how we can deal with those small issues. Theatre is extraordinary in this way - tot up the duration of the on-stage 'problems' and they add up to no more than 15 seconds in total. But those 15 seconds of slight hiatus and uncertain focus can really make a show sag, like a taut elastic suddenly giving way. 

Anyway the effort worked - yesterdays show was superb; a standing ovation and rave feedback from the audience. A reporter from a Chicago based classical music radio station was  there and took the opportunity to interview me. 'This sums it all up', she said excitedly, 'it epitomises what the Edinburgh Festival is all about'. 


Edinburgh Festival is a weird phenomenon. Arriving in the city and immediately hitting the crowds and the market-place atmosphere, my first reaction was to run away and get back on the train. But gradually you find yourself relaxing into it and soon it becomes totally exhilarating. But sometimes judgements seem odd, even upside down. The Assembly is hosting a Russian season, including Akhe - one of the most interesting and unique theatre companies around. I went to see their show 'Mr Carmen' - amazing, but with an audience of less than 20! Yet go to one of the Comedy tents and its like a summer weekend at Blackpool - thousands of people having a total ball.

We're lucky. On a visit to set up the shows earlier on in the year we were told that even our central and well-know venue and location may only get audiences of 6 or 7 people and that 20 is a good number for the fringe festival. We're getting audiences of somewhere between 55 and 90, which is excellent. Reviews too - rave reviews from the audiences; slightly mixed from the reviewers. But among them, this - "Horse + Bamboo deserves proper recognition for their remarkable achievement".

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A few more comments

A few more comments from recent shows of 'Angus'...

"Moved to silent tears"

"Superb, silence of actors highlighted beautifully by haunting voice. Use of puppets, mask and film all added to the production. Wonderful"

"Bha e cho breagha - uabhasach jheir alaimm! Bha na h-ovain iongantach breagha. Cho somplidh ach ag radh moran...ceud taing"

"Absolutely amazing! What a portrait of a soul caught in a world not made for it - who finds healing in a unique connection to nature. Inspiring creativity!! Thank you so much"

"What an amazing show! The best afternoon I've spent in a long time!! I'll be recommending it to everyone I know going to the festival and anyone else too. Thank you"

"Fior, Fior alaimm. Tiam haidh agus tursach - agus cho simplidh! Tapaidh Leibh"

"Thank you so much for this performance - the emotion that is portrayed around such difficult subjects is so much more profound than shown through media like film"

and from the Gairloch & District Times 

"...simple but evocative film sequences, sensitive interweaving of well-chosen and delicately broadcast sound effects, especially of birds and the natural world, contributed to a unique theatrical experience...brilliantly exemplifying the way harmonious use of modern technology can complement, without ever overwhelming, exceptionally subtle professional acting."

Saturday, 11 August 2012

At The SSC

In three days time the touring company, Mairi, Frances, Jonny, and Mark, will reassemble after a well deserved week-long break and travel to Edinburgh where Angus - Weaver of Grass will open at 4pm on Thursday 16th at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Once there they will give 10 performances, finishing on Sunday the 26th. 

Horse + Bamboo formed in 1978 and has been touring shows since that time, but we've never yet performed at the Edinburgh Festival. So this is a first for us, and it's going to be an interesting experience. One of the reasons we've never performed at the Festival is that it's very difficult to find the right venue. Anyone who thinks that touring is just a matter of sticking a few props and screens on the stage, opening the doors and then stepping out from behind a curtain and acting away is sadly misinformed. Each show we put on takes between 4 and 5 hours to unload and assemble the set and props, including the lights, projectors and sound equipment. After that it's sensible for the performers to have a minimum of an hours break before they perform; an hour in which they relax and focus their attention in preparation for the performance. So we usually ask the venue for an absolute minimum of 5 hours to 'get-in'.

In Edinburgh at Festival time, even at a professional, well-equipped, and understanding venue like the Scottish Storytelling Centre, you get an hour and a half. This is because they put on four shows by four different companies each day, and each company has to install their own show afresh for each performance. I've heard of venues that allow you just 15 minutes. Of course at the SSC we can have most of our lights already rigged and focused, and some of the screens (I hope) can be hidden behind the SSCs stage curtains - but for us anyway an hour and a half is going to be a tough ask. I guess it is for most theatre companies, but Angus is highly technical, with a load of puppets, masks, props, projectors'll get the picture if and when you see it. 

There's also the issue that the depth of the stage at the SSC is about 60cms short of what we need to project the video images at the right size. Touring around venues is always a matter of compromise on something - blackout, acoustics, lack of curtains, changing rooms, even having a stage at all can be a luxury - so having a stage-depth problem is par for the course. But it's going to create some problems for us. Fortunately the SSC have given us a technical day before the show opens to sort this, and any other problems out. 

We're going to be helped enormously in this by Christina Eddowes, who works as part of the arts team at H+B as a creative technician. Chris has been preparing for these problems all of last week, and will be going to Edinburgh for the duration in order to support the performers. As I say, it's going to be an interesting experience.....

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A short breather for the cast

The first leg of the Angus - Weaver of Grass tour is over. 

The last show was on Sunday evening at the Pittenweem Festival, in Fife. Like so many of the halls we have played in on this leg it was far from being a well-equipped theatre. The blackout was limited; the stage too small; the facilities almost non-existent. But this was more than made up by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the helpers and the palpable excitement surrounding the event. The hall was full and the reception - once more - was wildly enthusiastic. Many people had travelled long distances to see the show, and commented how worthwhile it had been making the journey. Plenty of people were in tears at the end, and I heard many comments similar to 'Amazing, I've never seen anything like it before', or 'The best thing that I've seen for ages'.

The short trailer for the show is now up on You Tube:

One of the special things about the Pittenweem show was that Joyce Laing was in the audience, since she lives in the village and her Art Extraordinary Gallery is on its High Street. Joyce, as anyone who has followed this blog will know, is responsible for us all knowing about Angus MacPhee - and hence for the existence of our play. 

Joyce was very warm about the production, and invited us all to her castle (yes, she lives in a wee castle next to the gallery) for a drink afterwards. It's in the nature of these tours that after the show is over, and the last of the audience have drifted away, there are still a good few hours work left for the company - and of course Pittenweem was no exception. So I helped with the dismantling and packing away process for half an hour or so, and then went along to Joyce's castle as the sole representative of Horse + Bamboo, since the others still had another hour of work to do. There, over a large dram, we discussed the show and Angus, and the state of theatre, and the wonderful cast, with Joyce and a couple of her friends, Jane and Gordon.

So now its a well earned week of rest for Jonny, Frances, Mairi and Mark, before we take the show to Edinburgh for the Festival - we're at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, right at the heart of the Royal Mile. Please join us there!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The beating Celtic heart

Reports from the tour group - Frances, Jonny, Mairi and Mark - tell me that the show on Raasay was well received by an audience of 22 (remembering that this is over 10% of the island's population), and that the show at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye (the Gaelic College) was sold out and a tremendous success. Now they have a trip to make with the show out to the island of Eigg.

Meanwhile I made a visit to the Clootie Well, on the Black Isle. This I first came across when prospecting a possible horse-drawn tour in the 1980s. It impressed me then and it did again.

Now it appears to have been grudgingly accepted, with signage and a parking arrangement. Then it was unpopular with the authorities, in the shape of the local council. An eyesore, a health hazard. But local people fiercely protected it, a site with healing properties.

Today I met a Glaswegian mother and son there; 'the Druids first built it', the son told me and it was his mothers first visit - 'amazed' she said. When I mentioned that 30 years ago the council tried to clean it up they were aghast 'they daren't!'. It's this sense of ownership that sets it apart from the normal 'heritage' site; it's still potent, still of the people rather than sterilised by officialdom; alive - in its weird way.

And of course it took me straight back to Angus. The garments on trees, the healing properties. Just another part of the beating Celtic heart.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Some comments about Angus...

The tour has now been out for two weeks. The company are back on the Outer Islands, and tonight's show is at An Lanntair, Stornoway, Lewis. Tomorrow I'll set off to rejoin the touring group, and I'll meet up with them at AROS on Skye on Saturday.

Feedback continues to be very, very positive. So far we've received well over 60 messages, via Twitter, the H+B website, and in the Comments Book. Here are a few typical examples:
  • "If you get a chance to see Horse and Bamboo's Angus MacPhee - go!! Quite simply the most exquisite and moving piece of theatre I've ever seen!" 
  • "Loved the production – very clever set with it being so minimalist. Blend of Gaelic and English with strong non-verbal communication probably meant everyone enjoyed and understood it. Thank you for bringing it here."
  • "Unbelievable. Loved it. Emotional. Blown away. Good singing."
  • "Amazing, wonderful production. Many thanks for superb ending to our holiday!"
  • "Emotive and inspiring. Gave insight into another world. Sensitive performance. Amazing puppetry. Singing – sgoinneil Jhein!"
  • "Amazing. Was moved to tears."
  • "Fireach druidhteach. Absolutely stunning moving and joyful, a seamless weave of media and music."
  • "Utterly amazing production. Reduced me to tears! Beautiful …"
  • "One of  the most moving things I’ve seen in a very long time. Both beautifully subtle and extremely powerful. Pathos without sentimentality. Thanks."
  • "Brilliantly conceived, constructed and executed. This deserves to win awards."

Monday, 23 July 2012

Angus - a review

Ian Tilton: Angus in Craig Dunain
The tour of 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' has been to Ullapool, Sutherland, and then the Black Isle over the past few days. Everywhere we have had a great reception. 

Mandy Haggith wrote a review of the Ullapool show at the MacPhail Centre on Thursday 19th. You can read this on the Northings website , and it has the tagline 'If you see only one piece of theatre this year, see this.' 

We've had several positive emails and comments on our Facebook page too, and the company report excellent feedback at the venues, and often very emotional audiences. 

After a few days well deserved break, the company move on - and travel back out to the islands later this week - appearing at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Lewis, on Thursday 26th. From there it's two shows on Skye and one on Raasay.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Young Angus sleeps...

...another photograph by Ian Tilton.

A comment/review appeared on the NORTHINGS website which is dedicated to 'Arts and Culture in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland':

"We saw ‘Angus’ at the Mull Theatre – found the combination of media – puppets, masks, images, music -moving, powerful and spellbinding. Amazed to see at the end only a cast of 4 had worked all this magic!

We had wondered in advance who it was ‘for’: the answer is anyone who likes their empathy and imagination stirred. Though not for children, as some of the scenes (war, mental breakdown) are very powerful.

Congratulations to all concerned!"

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Photographs from Ian Tilton

Angus weaving grass

Angus and the bonfire

Angus as a Lovat Scout

From the decline into schizophrenia scene

The touring company are now back on the mainland, after a great show on Mull last night. Feedback continues to be excellent. Above are a few of the photographs taken during rehearsal by Ian Tilton.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A special show on a special day

Yesterday, in my mind at least, was the biggest test for 'Angus'. We were on Benecula at the Lionacleit Community School (above), and playing two shows in front of an audience that was likely to be our first made up of a majority of Gaelic speakers. But by far my biggest anxiety was that several members of Angus Macphee's family would attend. This is very close by to Iochdar where Angus was brought up, and of course I hoped that the family in particular would feel that we have depicted Angus and his life with sensitivity and honesty.

The matinee passed off smoothly enough - 26 people on a bright afternoon is a good-sized audience hereabouts, and Mary Schmoller of CEOLAS reacted very positively to the show. Then the evening came and Iain Campbell, Angus's nephew arrived with a group of 6 or 7 relatives. Iain has always been very kind and helpful to me, but I was aware that the family has, in the past, been concerned at some depictions of Angus and I was particularly hoping that he would have a positive reaction to the show.

The show itself was good; and a packed theatre. Not without a few small technical hiccups, but well balanced and strong. It was good to feel Mairi's Gaelic and the local references in the story coming home, with small shivers running through the audience as details were recognised. The applause was heartfelt, and a large proportion took up Mark's offer at the end to stay around and discuss the show, and have a close look at the masks and puppets.

Eventually Iain came over to me. I could tell by his expression that he was happy, but in the event he was glowingly positive about the show. I met a succession of other relatives, all of whom knew Angus, and each of them added their congratulations and their anecdotes - about how well we had captured this or that; how accurately Fran portrayed Peigi, or how delighted they were by our version of Angus's life.

Other people joined in with their appreciation; Mary McInnes of Iochdar School - someone who had helped point me in the right direction several times in the development of the piece - made a short speech thanking the company. The set was admired, as were the puppets, the singing, the masks...

A truly memorable evening, and one of which the company should be proud. Today the cast have been invited by Angus's family to visit them at the family home in Balgarva, where they will be shown the large rock on the beach where, many years ago, Angus carved his initials...

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Mairi Morrison and Mark Whitaker
Mark and Frances Merriman
A perfect crossing from Oban to Tiree on the Calmac ferry 'The Clansman'. On arrival we were met by a committee of islanders all of whom are involved in the Tiree feis, a week of events aimed at celebrating the Gaelic culture of the island. This same group showed us spectacular hospitality throughout our stay. As a consequence the hall, where we performed 'Angus - Weaver of Grass', was full of groups of young people playing accordions, chanters, pipes - and singing. Our show was free, having been supported with donations from several local trusts and one individual. Well over 200 people turned up - almost a third of the island population, and we were given a great reception. 

Outside the Tiree hall before the show started
The machair on Tiree
For me the show was typical of many shows performed in village halls without raked seating or a stage - perhaps 60 or 70 people get a good view, but the majority see very little. Of course they hear the music but I find it hard to imagine how they can really follow the action and the story. I stood near the back and could see almost nothing. Still, the show got a great reception, and almost 100 stayed back for up to an hour to ask questions, see the puppets and masks, as well as Joanne B Kaar's woven artefacts (Joanne herself was in the audience). We sold our entire collection of 30 copies of Roger Hutchinson's 'The Silent Weaver', and I had a long queue of people lining up to congratulate me on the production.

The lounge on 'The Clansman' on our crossing to Barra, the 'feis cruise'
The blue H+B van leaves 'The Clansman' with Kisimul Castle behind. Castlebay, Barra.
Then today on to Barra on a crossing that just happened to be the 'feis cruise' with the young musicians of Tiree playing on the journey, along with a piper and a fiddler on the deck. We passed through a group of about 20 basking sharks on yet another smooth and perfect voyage, again under perfect blue skies. Then a quick journey up to the north of Barra and from there the small ferry to Eriskay and finally a drive to Uist and Benbecula. Tomorrow - a day off! Fantastic.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Looking at a problem

Photographs from this morning's rehearsal - the last before our first public performance on Wednesday at Tiree Feis

We faced up to one serious problem that we'll have to confront when we get to the Edinburgh Festival. Namely that the stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre is considerably shallower than we like. The main problem it causes is us is that our projectors can't be placed in their optimum position. So today's run was dedicated to finding out exactly what will happen. 

The conclusion? That on the whole the affect is a substantial one - but thankfully not critically so. In the three scenes that are profoundly affected we believe that we can minimise, if not entirely resolve, the problems with some adjustments to the way we use the mobile screens that are part of the set.

So, tomorrow it's pack the van; drive to Glasgow. On Tuesday it's Oban and from there the ferry to Tiree. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Preview!

No An La for some reason - but a truly memorable preview performance of 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' last night. We invited about 20 people, many of them colleagues from other theatre groups, to gather at the Boo. So a friendly but experienced and critical audience. 

Reactions were pretty universally positive, and very emotional. Several people were in tears and clearly moved by the story. I stayed up discussing later it with Kay over a dram, and went to bed feeling delighted by how things have ended up, and feeling a lot of pride in the company for getting us to this place. 

I note that the BBC News website has a couple of features about Angus and our tour:

So today it's a slightly later start, and a discussion about the feedback from last night. Then a run and a photo session with Ian Tilton. Something similar Sunday morning, and then it's 'the pack'; on Monday we head north....

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Angus on BBC Alba

Part of the photo wall in the Horse + Bamboo workshop
Debby Waldron from BBC Alba has emailed me:

"This is to let you know that the news item about Angus is due to air on An La tomorrow (Friday) night. That's on BBC Alba at 8pm.

I hope you're happy with the end result, I've used a few short clips of the rehearsals (and have made sure to state that we were filming the production IN rehearsal time). I've also incorporated some footage of Joanne Kaar making the props."

Rehearsals have continued - yesterday we managed to run with no unscheduled stops, but it was clear to me that everyone was very tired after a long, exhausting period. So today I suggested a run of the show late morning, before lunch. This paid off and although the run wasn't perfect it really did demonstrate that we have a coherent and potentially powerful show to tour. Esther, our Producer, sat in on it and was touched and delighted by what she saw. 

Tomorrow we play in front of a 'test' audience of friends and associates. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Calmac across the Minch

Hard to believe that in less than a week we'll be in the Outer Islands with 'Angus - Weaver of Grass'. It's been a long. long journey to get there - Calmac across the Minch will merely be the last small stride. 

Yesterday we ran the show - now for the fourth time. But for the first time I felt the stirrings and glimmerings of a story and the emotions within that story emerging. This is always a relief - I've been working on shows for a long time now but the doubt never goes; the doubt that this time it isn't going to happen, that for all everyones hard work it's never going to leave the stage and soar. 

Plenty still to do - making jobs to be completed, technical hitches to be ironed out, and scenes to be clarified and detailed. The show is running too long by at least 5 minutes, so one thing we'll have our eyes on is how to move things along a little faster. But, having seen the glimmer of life and soul in the show, now it will be just that tiny bit easier.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ready to run

The punctuation (see previous blog) has been added. Tomorrow we'll run the whole and see how the page now reads. The past four days have been very, very useful - not only four technical days, adding sound, light and video cues, but also days in which we've run substantial parts of the show and found time to rework them when necessary. 

Tomorrow Debby Waldron from BBC Alba is arriving here to film for part of the day. We'll be able to dedicate a limited amount of time to this, and I also hope to go through the remaining job list, and start work on those (many) parts of the show that need detailed rehearsal work on them.

Alison painting a puppet head
We now have completed versions of Daniella Orsini's first two films, and the opening 45 seconds of her third and final animation. Work on puppets continues, mainly now painting (above), and I've a number of key props to complete. Other than that we're well positioned to use the last week to run in and get used to our show. A week tomorrow we have the first audience - a small group of friends who will, we hope, give us feedback before the last day or so of rehearsal and the start of the tour of Scotland.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Punctuating a show

The end of the third week of rehearsal. Two more to go.....

Yesterday afternoon we ran the whole piece for the first time. With sound; with lights. All very rough of course, but we managed. At the very least it enabled us to see the whole shape of the play more clearly. 

At this stage watching the show is like reading a page of a novel with all the punctuation missing, or in the wrong place. Plus some of the words jumbled up. Which means you get a general sense of what it's all about, but in a breathless, formless way. So now the job will be to put those punctuation marks in place; re-order things when necessary, and breathe sense and purpose into the narrative. 

Of course that's only part of the challenge, as there's also getting the cast used to working the technical side of things - the lights and sound and video controls which have now been moved backstage. As we do this the sound and light also become part of that exercise in punctuating -  part of helping us tell the story effectively.

Above we see Mairi Morrison (back to us) and Frances Merriman on set, and Mark Whitaker in marionette puppeteering position (lower photograph). 

Yesterday was also Helen Jackson's last day of working with Horse + Bamboo. Helen has been CEO of 5 years, and was the person who wrote the successful bids for the funding for 'Angus'. So, thank you Helen, and best wishes with the new job...