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....

Sunday, 22 September 2013

An eventful trip

I've just returned from visiting the Horse + Bamboo touring company - Mark, Jonny, Mel and Jordanna - on Deeside; partly to see the company and partly to film the show.

Banchory - Woodend Barn

First stop was at a really beautiful and well run art centre, Woodend Barn, at Banchory – close to Aberdeen. Here we had a great turn out, the 120 seater almost full and a very, very enthusiastic reception.

Some of the comments:

Wow! Lost for words...moved to tears. Thank you”

Exquisite theatre + art + music. Thank you for a stunning piece of art and a real tribute to the human spirit.”

One of the most interesting theatrical performances I have ever seen”.

Braemar Village Hall

Then, after a drive to Inverness to the opening of the Scottish Mental Health Art and Film Festival at Eden Court I drove back through the Cairngorms to Braemar and the tiny but characterful village hall. Here we were welcomed by a small and mysterious group of very talented musicians greeting the audience as they arrived by playing in the foyer. Again, there was a great reception for the show:

You took me on a journey into the life of Angus. An amazing story, brilliantly told, evocative, emotional, educational – a tear was shed, a wonderful performance – thank you – a visual picnic and feast.”

Magical. Brilliantly conceived and performed. Very moving – thanks.”

The road to Glenshee

Then through Glenshee to Perth and the Weaver of Grass exhibition in the Museum and Art Gallery. One of the things this year is how much is happening related to Angus MacPhee. In Inverness there are guided walks of the places he worked (on Wednesday 9th October at 1pm and 6pm, with Karrie Marshall at the site of Craig Dunain, the mental hospital where Angus lived for 50 years); a reading of poetry by Chrys Salt and a talk by Roger Hutchinson, author of 'The Silent Weaver'. Saturday 12th October is 'Angus McPhee day' – a celebration of creativity, and alongside these activities our friend Joanne B Kaar will be running a grass weaving workshop, and our show will be playing at Eden Court Theatre at 7pm.

From the exhibition in Perth Art Gallery and Museum

The Perth exhibition is very impressive, and it also features the film of Joanne demonstrating how Angus made his weavings. The gallery includes great examples of Angus' work collected by Joyce Laing, including several that I hadn't seen before. It's overwhelming and very pleasing to see so much interest now in Angus and his work. Posters and flyers of the exhibitions, our show, and these various Angus-related events and activities are to be found all over the country. How much has changed in just one year. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

MJ and WA

Thanks to all of the organisers, including Anna NicGuaire, of our memorable trip to Islay for forwarding some of the comments and reviews they have collected from our visit, including the great photograph above of Mel (MJ) Deans with the puppet rapidly gaining a reputation as Wee Angus

Some of the comments:

“It was a really spellbinding amalgam of mask theatre, puppetry, physical theatre, storytelling, music and multi-media...a memorable piece of work”

“Funny, desperate, moving; oh, my heart. Wonderful”

“Bha sin àlainn a-raoir...wonderful, sensitive, visual treat...go see”

“Great theatre company...great production”

“The puppet 'Wee Angus'...quite stole the show, reflecting the skill of the puppet designers and makers...The large audience in Bowmore Hall, many visibly moved at the emotional end, thoroughly applauded the performance.”

“...the play was wonderful, and the reaction since has been great.”

Monday, 9 September 2013

Two Joyces

The Angus tour continues on the mainland, and tonight it's the first of our BLAS Festival shows - at Fortrose Community Centre. The Festival celebrates Gaelic language and culture in 9 days of a packed programme of events including music, dance, film, food, literature - and Angus - Weaver of Grass. For more information visit the BLAS site by clicking here, and our own itinerary can be found in the column on the right of this blog.

The last couple of days we've been in Perth, taking our place in the series of events celebrating Angus MacPhee and Art Brut (also known as Outside Art or Art Extraordinary). Our shows, at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, have been very well received, with some glowing comments posted on Facebook. The events were opened by Joyce Laing with a talk about Angus MacPhee and his place among outsider artists. Joyce, of course, was the woman who discovered Angus working on his grass-weavings at Craig Dunain hospital.

Those of you who have seen our show will know that in the current version we've bought the character of Joyce Laing into the action. Joyce isn't mentioned by name but anyone who knows anything of Angus' story would recognise her part in our telling of it. So in Perth the two Joyces finally met (proof above). Joyce Laing and Mel Deans who plays the masked representation of her 1970s self!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A short trip to the Islands

The first glimpse of Muck
Our Horse + Bamboo tour arrived on the Isle of Muck last Wednesday, and I was fortunate enough to accompany them. The island, with a population somewhere between 30 and 40, is tiny - just a mile wide; two miles long. It is notable for being self-sufficient in power, with large solar panels and several wind-generators that provide all their needs - and which did a thoroughly decent job of providing us power for Angus - Weaver of Grass

Mark drives our van, while Jonny, Jordanna and Mel walk to the Community Hall.

28 people turned out for the show - almost 80% of the population! Despite having no blackout the show worked well. It started in close to broad daylight (the hall has large roof lights) but night drew in just as the story gets darker - so the contrast from the light of Angus' early years to his later travails and the long period of incarceration in Craig Dunain was echoed by the changing and dimming light in the hall. 

The show was very well received - everyone staying around for tea and cakes, and to chat with myself and the cast. What a hospitable community! We were fed and watered, and then provided with lovely rooms for the overnight stay, before being waved off from the quayside the next morning. An amazing visit!

Arriving on Islay, Port Askaig.

Then on to Islay, after returning to Mallaig and a drive south. 'Angus' was on at the Bowmore Hall, where 80 people turned up - the arts committee were overjoyed by the size of the audience, and a good few of them were Gaelic speakers. The response at the end was electric - and just about everyone stayed behind to chat, look at the masks and puppets, buy copies of The Silent Weaver book by Roger Hutchinson (which we sell after the show along with Nick Higgin's film Hidden Gifts about Angus). Comments in the book were full of delight and astonishment at our production. So all in all a wonderful trip, and a reminder of the powerful impact that theatre can have on audiences.