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....

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The absence of words

The absence of text, of words, has an effect. Recently I’ve read several books on Celtic culture as part of the process of soaking up information about the history of the Hebrides, of the Gaeltacht, of Scotland (and Britain and Europe generally for that matter) in preparation for the Angus MacPhee production.

What all these books say, in their own way, is that Celtic culture often tends to be considered as a pre-history, simply because (unlike the Romans) it didn’t leave behind writings about itself. It left behind plenty of words all right, but it was as an oral culture rather than a written culture and this massively affects our perception of Celtic history, and the way the culture has developed through to the present day. Just look, for example, at the Gaelic song tradition; how these wonderful songs are still interpreted, modified and passed on through the ear rather than through notation.

It dawned on me how Angus’ own story reflects this in an odd way. His silence leaves us to make our own interpretation about his inner life – including what his woven artefacts meant to him. We look at these objects and are left to our own ideas and reflections as to their meaning - without Angus having given us any kind of explanation beyond the objects themselves.

Actually I’m used to this in another context. The theatre I’ve been making with Horse + Bamboo for nearly 35 years has nearly always been wordless and audiences interpret the stories and meanings through the images they see and the music they hear. This, in my experience, allows for a certain kind of richness and depth of interpretation, even when it demands and brings about its own disciplines and problems.

With ‘Angus –Weaver of Grass’ I hope we can find a way – and again it will be without using many words - of making Angus himself more tangible. In the books I’ve read and the film I’ve seen about Angus he seems to be largely absent – an Angus-shaped hole. There's plenty of context; everything goes on around him, but Angus just hovers there with that slight smile on his face, weaving away and with a bunch  of grass in his hands. I would like to feel that wordlessly, echoing both his distant culture and also his own choice of silence, we’re able to make something that brings Angus himself front stage.

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