Angus Reviews

Reviews from 2012 tour of
Angus – Weavers of Grass.

Saw Angus in Halifax on Friday. The most absorbing and moving piece of theatre I’ve seen for years. Please tour with this again! Until then, I’ll look out for your other work. Thank you for telling such an important story so beautifully.It was so beautiful and moving.

Thanks to @horseandbamboo for making magic happen tonight. Angus was wonderful, magical & moved us both to tears. It was ‘extraordinary art’.

Thank you for your brilliant production in Ardfen last Friday. It made me laugh and moved me to tears. We’ve enjoyed listening to Mari’s CD over the weekend.  Oh and our magic bunnets took us to Craobh Haven and the Tarbert music festival on Saturday so thanks for that too.Angus - Weaver of Grass

Thanks to you! Just wonderful and I want to see it again! x

@HorseandBamboo ‘s ‘Angus, Weaver of Grass’ was visually brilliant, terribly moving and left me thinking I could speak Gaelic. Many thanks x

We both thought it was incredibly moving….. It was a wonderful show, with so many interesting and engaging elements. Ian picked up on the shading and lines drawn on the mask’s face, noting how prominent they were. He said he swear he saw the old woman smile at one point! So just to say, it was definitely a hit with us. Thank you!

I really enjoyed the show – it really brought out the imagery of the Scottish isles, the horrors of war and the poor man’s insanity – it reminded me in some ways of Dave (Pearson) – how he used his work to make sense of a mad world!

I drove back last night with so many of the images of Angus’s life turning over in my head. I have just been reading the blog on Weaver of Grass and I agree with one of the contributors who says that she does not understand a word of Gaelic but followed every word sung by Mairi. Quite wonderful and I cannot wait to be present at another performance.

Stunning, moving and beautiful. Made my heart break. Was ace to hear Gaelic; singing was lovely. These stories need telling. Thank you.

Every element in this theatre piece is SUPERB. Thank you.

Emotional and beautiful. Super. Thank you so much.

Superlative storytelling – fantastic use of projection and puppetry. By far the best Horse + Bamboo production I’ve seen.

Excellent! Best we’ve seen for some time.

Magical, innovative, captivating, moving. A beautiful piece of theatre that will linger in the memory forever. Bravo!!

Fantastic – best ever I’ve seen of you. Wonderful journey (what a lovely man).

Precioso! Gracias!

Surprisingly good. Powerful, tragic lined with happiness.

That was fantastic! Loved the puppets in particular and the masks. Brilliant to see how human they were in the emotions they displayed. A great production. So glad I came! More please!

Wow! That was amazing – what initially appeared to be a simple set revealed itself as a complex and well-coordinated piece – bit like the man himself I suspect – thank you.

The best theatre I’ve ever see. Heart rending and funny!!

Tha e sgomneil ‘s mas fhearr na a leabhar!

Very thought provoking; we loved it.

Absolutely fantastic! Beautiful singing. Puppets were magical.

A beautiful piece of art and a great reminder of the power of theatre. Thanks for sharing this powerful story.

Well worth making a long and involved journey by bus, train, and bike – so glad I caught this wonderful show.

Absolutely fantastic! So imaginative, observant and using different media, sound, light and movement to full effect without ever letting them take over. Magical, poetic, thoroughly fascinating! Thank you! Amazing costumes, masks and puppets.

Wonderful show – so inventive, thought provoking, subtle and trusting in its audience. Don’t speak Gaelic but have never been happier to listen to the language, which came alive! Thank you.

Knew Angus’ story before I came, found out about him whilst on Uist. This was the most moving and excellently executed performance I’ve seen. Absolutely brilliant set, acting, everything. Thanks you.

Lan fairenehainn, a cho breagha.

Wow!! Totally brilliant. Really moving, fantastically performed – couldn’t have done Angus MacPhee more proud!! Thank you.

One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen. So moving. You thought of every detail. A Mhairi – abair gutt alainn – sgoinneil!

Came from Stonehaven just for this show and am so glad! I have never see such a beautiful play – so sensitively produced (even using technology to enhance the dialogue) I do not speak or understand Gaelic but felt every word and gesture. Thank you. Please come to Aberdeen sometimes.

Can’t describe how wonderful this was. One of the best things I’ve ever seen in any format. Thanks is not enough. Magical.

Horse and Bamboo do it again! Wonderful. Magical. Totally captivating, moving in extreme. Finely crafted, exquisite…

Astonishing story beautifully told. I wept buckets.

Angus marionette

Aultbea Hall, 24th July

Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company brought a spellbinding gem to a packed Aultbea Hall on 24 July. Their extraordinary skills of acting, singing, mime, film projection, masks and puppetry took us into the mind of the man from South Uist, who expressed himself in the clothing he made from grass. This true tale revealed how soldiers who survive war service might return alive – but damaged. In Angus MacPhee’s case, his uprooting from home and familiars bred fear. On being diagnosed with schizophrenia, his 50 years in an Inverness psychiatric hospital were spent in silence but his active brain was creating the most beautiful hats, suits and shoes woven from grasses collected in the hospital grounds. He endured electroconvulsive therapy, was taken off medication and became institutionalised.

The lilting Gaelic singing of Mairi Morrison and score of Loz Kaye, the magical animation and lighting of Christina Eddowes, the beguiling integration of sophisticated marionettes by Alison Duddle, the powerful mime aided by deeply expressive full head masks, the works of art that were woven and worn (replicas made by Joanne B Kaar) and the creative director Bob Frith made this performance speak with a thousand voices, as perhaps Angus had feared to do. A book by Roger Hutchinson, a documentary film (Hidden Gifts by Nick Higgins) and a song by Runrig’s Donnie Munro all hail Angus’s achievements, as I wish to do here for this remarkable company. As The Stage put it: “Physical, emotional and aural beauty…their collective artistry is awesome”.

Just to let you know about a very beautiful, astonishingly imaginative show that I saw yesterday on the Fringe, which is coming to the CCA in Glasgow on 15th September: Angus – Weaver of Grass, a production by Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company, from Lancashire, directed by theatre maker Bob Frith. Stunningly visual, exquisite blending of performers, masks and puppets, music, and the most wonderful use of video – I’ve rarely seen video this well achieved in theatre. There’s also a stunning sound track, and singing of the highest order.

What’s particularly surprising is the production’s commitment to the story’s Gaelic roots – here we have a Lancashire theatre company making a piece of theatre, the text of which is mostly in Gaelic, and so deftly achieved, that it is more or less universally comprehensible.

Angus and dad

Today I went to the Scottish Story-telling Centre to see your very beautiful and moving Angus – Weaver of Grass. As a fellow theatre maker, I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful experience. Visually stunning – brilliant integration of puppets, masks and performers, and a really exquisite, incredibly accomplished use of video. The sound track was also absolutely fantastic – detailed, subtle, constantly evoking and probing the psychological space.

And, to me, not the least surprising aspect of the production was its commitment to Gaelic – you found a highly original and brilliantly effective way of incorporating the language. Amazing to think that here is a Lancashire theatre company creating a work of Gaelic language theatre which is completely comprehensible in a wonderfully universal way. Mairi Morrison – WHAT a voice – superb – and the use of her singing and narration was so effective and unusual.

The Lancashire/Gaelic connection appeals to me rather particularly, as (although I was born and brought up in Scotland) my parents are from Lancashire, and I am married to a Gael – the Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail from Skye. Many thanks for creating such a powerful work of theatre.

Those present at Aultbea Hall on Tuesday 24th July witnessed a master-class in dramatic mime and WCA are to be congratulated on inviting Horse and Bamboo Theatre to present the sobering and remarkable story of Angus MacPhee.

Born to a crofting family in 1915, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic whilst serving in WWII. Although nowadays we realise he was probably disoriented by the transition from peaceful sights and sounds of island-living to hectic life in the army and on the mainland. Eventually he was consigned to Craig Dunain where he remained fifty years. Treated initially by Electroconvulsive Therapy and various drugs, he became further disoriented, retreating into silence, passing the endless years pulling grass from the grounds and weaving it into hats, boots trousers coats, which have become recognised as works of art.

A cast of four told Angus’ story in precise, detailed mime. Childhood and boyhood, cleverly, even humorously conveyed with the help of puppet and cut-outs, merged into departure from a cherished, familiar way-of-life as he becomes increasingly distressed by having to live away from the island. They donned a marvellously realised sequence of enlarged false heads which aged as the years passed. We see Angus, whom we first met as a child tenderly lulled to sleep in his father’s arms by a Gaelic lullaby and as a fit, six foot young man leaving the island for the Lovat Scouts, now bent, old and broken, come home at last to his island when the NHS arbitrarily decrees ‘Care in the Community’. The slow, unspeaking, tenderness displayed by his equally elderly carer (sister/wife?) was extraordinarily moving.

Dramatisation of the story was exceptionally well-realised, individual incidents carefully judged, neither too long nor too short. The terrifying mimed enactment of (now abandoned) ECT was every bit as dramatically chilling as the words of Aston recalling his own treatment in a mental hospital at the end of Act II in The Caretaker.

As neither Angus nor other actors ever speak, ‘narrative’ comprised a sequence of haunting, knowledgably selected Gaelic songs beautifully sung by Mairi Morrison, with occasional brief explanations/translations. However the mime was so meticulously performed that his story was perfectly comprehensible to non-Gaelic speakers. Sophisticated manipulation of mobile screens (on which were projected simple but evocative film sequences) sensitive interweaving of well-chosen and delicately broadcast sound effects, especially of birds and the natural world, contributed to a unique theatrical experience, brilliantly exemplifying the way harmonious use of modern technology can complement, without ever overwhelming, exceptionally subtle professional acting. The spectacular heightening blaze and sound of roaring flames provided an unforgettably, even unnerving, realistic final coup de théatre.


Angus – Weaver of Grass:  REVIEW NORTHINGS WEBSITE

IF YOU see one piece of theatre this year, see this. It is a compassionate performance, telling the life story of Angus MacPhee, who was born and died on South Uist, but in between suffered the worst that British society could offer to a person with mental health problems. But this is not just a story about suffering, it’s about dignity and the healing power of art.

The play, created by Bob Frith and the Horse + Bamboo Theatre, mixes human actors and puppetry in a completely original way. Actors wearing masks interact with puppets, shifting seamlessly from character to puppeteer and back. A clever set, superb lighting and soundtrack, plus use of film and animation, and a combination of Gaelic and English words and songs, make this a many layered and fascinating experience. It sounds complex, and it is, but it’s far from difficult. The performances are witty and moving and the story is utterly compelling.

After a happy rural Hebridean childhood, Angus became a soldier during the Second World War, during which he developed schizophrenia. He was incarcerated for 50 years in Craig Dunain hospital in Inverness, but for most of that time he didn’t require drugs and, in a more enlightened era, would probably not have been in hospital at all. The delusions Angus experienced first as a soldier and then as he became more ill are brought vividly to the stage in a mix of movement, war footage, animation, puppetry, light and sound. The formal treatments meted out by the hospital included electro-convulsive therapy, and the scenes in the play where this is shown are among its most powerful.

Fortunately Angus found his own therapy on the hospital farm, where he wove grass, using techniques he had watched as a child for practical things like halters for horses. He created all sorts of grass objects: hats, bags and even giant boots, gloves, coats and suits, which he would hang on trees or hide under bushes. They were often burnt by hospital staff along with dead leaves, until eventually they were recognised as the artworks they clearly were. The reproductions of these objects, made for the play by Caithness-based textile artist Joanne B Kaar, are quite extraordinary. My only criticism of the play is that the long passage of years as Angus developed his mastery of grass was rather too swiftly played out. I wished that there had been more time spent exploring this craftwork, and the healing that it brought.

Throughout his long hospitalisation, Angus did not speak, and the play reflects this through a minimal use of voice, restricted to songs and a few brief bursts of narration. Mairi Morrison’s singing is superb – unfussy, clear and heartfelt – and the blend of rich Gaelic and a pared-down sufficiency of English is original and very evocative.

Altogether, this is the best piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. Catch it if you can. There is an accompanying exhibition about mental health, which adds yet another dimension to this really important and creative enterprise.