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....

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.