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....

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Last minute wobble

Just five working days to go and I receive a message from one of the new performers who has joined our Angus team asking for a 'chat'. Slightly ominous I thought, but perhaps nothing...a last minute question about their accommodation arrangement or a 'would it be possible to attend a best friend's wedding and leave early one day during rehearsal?' type of enquiry.

But in the event it was a request to pull-out of the tour completely as they had been offered something 'too good to refuse' for a series on BBC Alba. I said, of course, this was totally unreasonable and would leave us with a number of serious problems. She went back to the TV company and asked if there was room to manoeuvre - there wasn't. 

For anyone at all familiar with working in theatre this kind of situation is surprisingly rare, but when it does happen it always causes a major crisis. Actors in a touring team are chosen for how well they are expected to get on with one another as well as for their acting abilities, but after an initial hair-tearing and table-thumping by the director on the whole it is usually possible to replace one actor with another - there are, after all, a lot of unemployed actors out there. Five working days is a bit of an extreme time-frame however, and when one is looking for a particular skill set, puppetry skills for example, it gets considerably harder. But when looking for a fluent Gaelic-speaker and singer with acting skills it becomes really difficult. Then there's the fact that you are looking for someone who just happens to have a totally free timetable for the next three months - and starting on Monday! Help!

It's hard to avoid feeling bitter about these things too. All that effort into setting up auditions in Glasgow, and asking Mairi and Loz to travel to be part of the selection process. The keen performers who are rejected - and then it turns out to be all to no avail. But there's not much to be achieved by feeling angry - on the whole actors and theatre companies are very honourable and honest about such things, even if and when they're offered something better. Best to get on the phone and email and start looking for a replacement. 

This we did, and with help from Loz (our Music Director who needed to be part of selecting a singer) and Mairi, who somehow seemed to alert half of Scotland to our mini-crisis. Within twelve hours people were contacting me, and within 23 hours I was offering the role to someone else. In fact to MJ (Melissa) Deans.

Melissa accepted the offer enthusiastically. We had in fact auditioned her in May, and we had been impressed then, although not chosen her because although a fluent Gaelic speaker she wasn't from the islands - rather from Cumbernauld, who had been educated at Gaelic medium school. But she now joins a very relieved company and the Angus touring group that now consists of Mark, Jonny, Jordanna - and Melissa!

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