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....

Friday, 27 April 2012

Welcome to Mairi

We can now announce the full team who will take the Angus MacPhee - Weaver of Grass show out on tour in July. The last member of the team to be confirmed is Mairi Morrison, well known in Scotland as an actor and tv-presenter, but also increasingly as a singer, both solo and with Alisdair Roberts. 

Mairi comes from Bragar on the Isle of Lewis, one of the furthermost parts of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, and is a native Gaelic speaker. We are delighted to have such a talented musician and actor in the team - Mairi astonished us with the perfection of her audition pieces when we went up to Glasgow a couple of months ago. Listen (and watch) a sample of Mairi singing on You Tube here:

Mairi joins Jonny Quick and Mark Whitaker, long-standing performers with Horse +Bamboo. Both have a lot of mask and puppetry experience, and last toured together  in Deep Time Cabaret and Little Leap Forward.  They are joined by Frances Merriman, a performer who also worked with us on Little Leap Forward, veil and Red Riding Hood.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Excitement at the Boo!

Some real excitement today! We had to move the set out of our theatre space (the Boo) as there's a performance there on Saturday. 

Before doing it Alison and I looked at how Christina's (Christina Eddowes - one of the arts team at H+B, responsible for technical areas and the building) films looked. We looked at the fire sequence, the straw-man sequence, and the weaving at Craig Dunain sequence, all parts of the 'Angus' script. Everything worked wonderfully - the film of hands weaving grass projected onto the Craig Dunain screens (above) were especially ravishing... 

Monday, 23 April 2012

6 weeks of making left...

Back now after a short project in London. We're into the last 6 weeks before rehearsal starts. I've completed three more masks (the lower three in the photograph); Alison has a new load of jelutong and lime wood for her puppet carving, and Christina is filming straw-men blowing in the wind, as well as helping solder my puppets:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

More grass boots and a cat

The upper photograph (courtesy of Joanne B Kaar) is the contents of the package Joanne sent me two blogs ago. The lower one, also by Joanne, is a replica of Angus MacPhee's boots made for exhibition at the Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem.  Joanne will be making similar boots to go on show at the Morven Gallery on the island of Lewis. Both these exhibitions will coincide with our visit with the Horse + Bamboo production of Angus MacPhee; Weaver of Grass.

Today Joanne agreed to make yet another replica for the show - of Angus's cat. In a rewrite of the puppet scenes we decided to change some of the emphasis in our script and represent Joyce Laing, the art therapist who 'discovered' Angus and his work at Craig Dunain in the 1970s, as a masked character. Scripts go back and forth in this way - a masked Joyce was my original idea; then it changed to representing her as a table-top puppet; now we're back to the mask idea. In the course of this we felt the grass cat, made by Angus to represent a cat he adopted at the hospital, should make an appearance.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Representing the Craig Dunain gardens

I finished the three wheeled panels today; painted flats that represent the garden at Craig Dunain Psychiatric Hospital outside Inverness, where Angus spent 50 years of his life and where he began his work of weaving costumes, hats, bags and other paraphernalia from the grass and leaves he found. 

I've been to look at the garden - today it's a slightly scruffy fringe to the renovation work and re-branding of the hospital complex as an up-market housing development. Despite this you can still see that it was a typical garden for such an institution. Rhododendrons, heavy dark shrub foliage, evergreens. beech and other native trees. I decided to represent it as a slightly magical place, a place of release from the austere wards and clinical environment of the interior of the hospital. I think this is how it must have felt to Angus; certainly he appeared to be at his happiest here, and he spent every hour he could working within its embrace.  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The home straight

I arrived back from a short but refreshing break in France and Portugal to find an opened package on my desk. Joanne B Kaar had sent me the grass boots she has made for our show. These are to be worn by Angus at the same time as the swallow-tail coat and sunburst hat (see previous blogs); more on this here

Alison, helped by Vanessa Card and Christina Eddowes, had been busy all week. Down in our theatre space the cloth-work for the set is beginning to take shape. Alison told me it was all taking her longer than she expected, and she still has a few days work to complete the job. However, she has prepared the cloth surfaces on the wheeled flats and so I've been able to start painting these. They are mobile flat screens that can be turned to create the garden of Craig Dunain, and this will allow a sudden transition from the pale colours of the island scenes to the colourful garden in which Angus started his weaving project.

No word from Daniella Orsini, our animator, or Loz Kaye, the Musical Director, who should be beginning to start their parts of the Angus jigsaw, and I'll need to follow these up. In fact there's any number of things that urgently need to be got underway - the Gaelic voiceovers, and the translations, for starters. 

Finally, I had a helpful email from Roger Hutchinson, who tells me (see the previous post) that there are photographs of Neil, Angus's father. Fortunately my mask isn't too different from the photograph Roger showed me, although my mask has a moustache, whereas Neil, in the photo, is clean-shaven. However the prominent moustache is an excellent way to identify Neil as he moves from being represented by a foot-high puppet to a masked performer so I'm inclined to keep it in, strict accuracy notwithstanding!