'Angus - Weaver of Grass' - Horse + Bamboo | Edinburgh 2012
Atmospheric effects introduce the show – sounds of water, seabirds, a car pulling into a gravel drive and shifting lights behind a closed door. An elderly woman enters the room, her character depicted through a beautifully sculpted mask. She helps a similarly masked old man to sit. The story unravels as the old man pulls a bit of grass from his pocket and begins to twist it together in his hands.
The scene might suggest a married couple who have spent a lifetime together. However, the story doesn’t follow a typical path. The man is Angus MacPhee and this play depicts his childhood on a South Uist farm, and later shows him as a soldier who has lost his way in life. He regains direction only through knitting together the island grasses from his childhood home into whimsical garments from his imagination. These weavings later gain recognition in outsider art circles.
Mairi Morrison, singing in Gaelic, moves the story forward in evocative ways. Morrison provides bits of narration in both Gaelic and English to help frame the otherwise wordless scenes. The imagery is powerful. Through rustic carved puppets, we are shown the fairy tale idea Angus has of himself as he rides his horse off to war.
The puppets have a rough, folk-art quality that fit with the theme. Shadow puppetry and projections illuminate an inner world. A haunting scene within a mental hospital implies psychiatric cruelties common to that era, which grind the man down with degrading repetition until he transports himself into a world of colour.
The play twines together factual information with metaphor, for the most part very effectively. However some elements were obscure. I couldn’t decipher the meaning of the fire images or whom the woman represented, if not his wife. The words “Care in the Community” appeared at one point on a screen but seemed somehow out of place.
Horse + Bamboo went to great lengths to explore and honour the life of Angus MacPhee, including re-creating some of his woven grass hats and jackets. But I think my viewing would also have benefitted from more biographical information, perhaps on the programme or flyer, as I didn’t realise at first that the play was based on a true story.
Angus - Weaver of Grass
Horse + Bamboo
The Scottish Storytelling Centre