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, 29 February 2012

Our team - and the tour

Above, our Portuguese interns Andre and Mariana putting layers of papier-mache on the mask of a doctor for the Angus production.

Meanwhile we have contracted three performers to tour with the show. Jonny Quick (currently appearing as the Wolf in Red Riding Hood), a long-standing member of the Horse + Bamboo team, and Mark Whitaker, who has recently been seen filming with Ridley Scott. Mark is also a H+B regular (Little Leap Forward, Twittering Machine and many more), and Frances Merriman (the original Red Riding Hood and a member of the Veil cast). We're also delighted to announce that we've found the perfect singer for 'Angus MacPhee', of which more will be revealed soon. 

Meanwhile Esther has been filling in gaps on the tour schedule, and wrestling with ferry timetables in the process. I believe a booking has been confirmed for Eigg, and this now joins Tiree, Mull, Skye, Uist/Benbecula, and Lewis in the island trail. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Auditions in Glasgow

I've been at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, along with Loz Kaye and Alison Duddle, auditioning Gaelic singers for the Angus MacPhee production. We also had a great deal of support and help from Linda Macleod, a young Gaelic speaker from Clachan in North Uist (incidentally a fine singer herself), who helped us with the Gaelic and in so doing also filled in a lot of detail about the life and culture of Uist - precisely those nuances that are so hard to come by except from someone with an intimate knowledge. Thank you so much Linda, and thanks to the CCA too, for their generosity in providing us with such a wonderful audition room - and to Esther for making the links that made it possible!

The auditions were an inspiration in themselves. Auditions can often be tiring and draining, but these were very stimulating, and listening to the singing and playing provided us with an unusual number of tingly emotional moments. Every single person we auditioned offered us wonderful skill and feeling in their music, and the three of us sitting behind the desk quickly recognised what a privilege it was to be so closely engaged with the music from the islands in this way. I think the process also made us re-think some of our ideas about the show, and I feel that the ripples from these two days in Glasgow will continue to inform our own work over the coming weeks and months. 

We'll be thinking about the selection of a singer over the weekend, and make a final decision on Monday. But if any of the singers who came along to the CCA read this blog - my heartfelt thanks to you for joining with us over these past days.

The photograph above I found on the web and, at first, I thought I had stumbled across a photograph of our Angus Macphee as a young boy. But no, it's another (Dan) Angus MacPhee, but I include it as it's so evocative a photograph, and pretty much exactly fits in with my image of young Angus and his passion for horses. Thank you, and credit to the anonymous source of this photo. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

In Edinburgh

Yesterday Esther and I went to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to see their Netherbow Theatre and check our whether the Angus show would fit onto their lovely, but for us rather shallow, stage (below).

It's a great place - with a great cafe too - and we really want it to work for us. Their offer is 10 days at the Edinburgh Festival, and in such a centrally placed venue it would be a perfect opportunity to show Angus. After just a little um-ing and aw-ing, and deft use of a tape measure, we came to the conclusion that we could make it work, especially given the fact that the venue does provide some storage facility; important because, as anyone who knows anything about the Festival knows, we'll be sharing the stage with several other companies, and so having to reset the show up anew every day.

Then, to make my morning, our friend and colleague in Caithness, Joanne B Kaar, mailed me a photograph of the hot off the weaving press Rashin Coatie...

Friday, 10 February 2012


Details from Joanne B Kaar, of the swallow-tail dress grass jacket she is working on in Caithness. For more go to her own blog (click here) - but for us working in Lancashire it continues to be an inspiration that as well as our own work on the production, which is gathering real momentum, there's such tremendous work being created for 'Angus' right up at the top of Scotland. Thanks Joanne!

We've had a week of detailed work - looking at various aspects of the script in the context of the rough stage. We've been able to do this in our performance space - Tuesday we looked at the video and film work; Wednesday the music with Loz Kaye, and yesterday Mark Whitaker helped us look at the puppetry sections. 

In the course of doing this research and development a lot has been learned, and this morning I've re-written the script to include all the new detail and ideas from these three days of work. The next thing is to go through the script with Alison and create a making list - puppets, masks, props etc that we'll need to make over the next few months.

Mark Whitaker working with a prototype puppet for 'Angus'

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The set has a trial run

Experimenting with the set day! We tried out the new ideas about setting of projectors with cloth roughly laid over the frames. Excellent - lots of decisions clarified in one session. The main thing was to discover that we can use side projections without compromising the image and, in particular, having to take up space in the audience seating...


Tomorrow we meet with Loz Kaye, the Musical Director on the show, and discuss the shortlisting of the 9 people who applied for the Gaelic singer/musician role with him. More excitement expected!

Friday, 3 February 2012

A busy week

After the excitement of seeing those shows in London I returned to our Horse + Bamboo workshop and drastically laid into the model of the set for Angus. 

Substituting angles for straight lines everywhere, and moving the projectors to the sides rather than front-on - the whole thing took on a distinct Daniel Libeskind quality. I was helped in this by having two final year theatre students, Andre and Mariana, arrive for a three month stay with us from EPTC, Cascais, Portugal. Despite being shocked by the Lancashire cold, they settled in quickly (after a Sunday New Year visit to Manchester Chinatown) and were an immediate help in creating new model boxes incorporating the more expressionistic approach to the set design.  

Joanne B Kaar has been busy too - three creels arrived in the post today - here they are hanging on the skeleton of the set:

But most of all, Joanne has been busy re-imagining Angus and his fanciful hats (a new addition to the script). I sent her a mask to fit the hat to. The box containing the mask must have crossed the bag with the creels somewhere in the UK postal service around Dundee by my reckoning! Any way the photograph Joanne sent today, showing my roughly painted mask wearing Joanne's whacky hat is rather splendid: