Monsters in Redcar, Woven Grass and Mrs. Santa

Horse + Bamboo’s Angus Mcphee

You have probably noticed that I have gone a bit quiet for a few weeks, but that is not because there’s been nothing going on.

We had a lovely time performing at the “That’s the Way to Do It” puppet festival at Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar.  Our giant Jabberwocky monster enjoyed getting out of the Rough Magic Theatre shed and menacing people.

Unfortunately as is often the case, both Tim and myself were performing at the same time so we could not take any decent photo’s.  There are however a couple of quite good shots in a slideshow at the bottom of the page in this local newspaper,  (click here to look).

We did struggle a little with the glass roof in the performance space for “Alice” which both let in a bit too much light for the best viewing of the shadow puppets and also leaked water onto us when there was a sudden downpour.  But I am told that they are looking to replace the roof next year and they are looking forward to it being a much improved performance space as a result.

On Sunday, as you’ve probably guessed from the picture, we went to see one of the extremely few performances in England of Horse + Bamboo’s Angus Mcphee – Weaver of Grass.  There is a link to Bob Frith’s blog about the show on my blogroll.

I have been a very big fan of Horse + Bamboo’s work for many years.  I first I saw them perform “Harvest of Ghosts” at Streets Ahead in Manchester some years back.  I liked that show because it combined powerful imagery, atmospheric music and a deeply affecting moral message.  I had also been impressed with the dark humour and the way the story was expressed so clearly with such minimal use of words.  Indeed, spoken words were entirely absent but there was some use of written signs to express meaning.

Angus Mcphee had a very different atmosphere to that particular production though it had some of the same hallmarks.  It was a biography of a real man, Angus Mcphee, a crofter.  It covered his childhood in a very joyful, energetic and funny way.  It made good use of a variety of different types of puppet as well as masks, including glove puppets, some lovely horses and a cow with an udder made from a red rubber glove.

They used something which I think is a relatively recent innovation for them, which was shadow puppet film.  It was beautifully done and achieved effects that would have been impossible to do live, but I think they lacked the life and immediacy of live shadow puppetry.

They dealt with the darker areas of Angus’s history very well too and I was particularly impressed by the way they portrayed Angus’s treatment in the mental institution.

I ended the play being intensely interested in the real Angus Mcphee and although his story was sad I was not swept away emotionally.  This was partly because, as a puppeteer and theatre practitioner, I was busy dissecting the techniques they were using and working out how things were done.  The other part though, was that I think the show achieved perfect Brechtian alienation through the use of masks, puppets, puppeteers and singers on view, non-realistic scenery, projections etc.  I don’t know if this was the same for everyone who watched the piece, but I felt entertained and instructed but not swept away by emotional empathy, (Brecht would be proud).

I am also back working with the infamous Leo Nolan, (Rough Magic Theatre’s former artistic director).  After a break doing other things he is returning in the charming guise of the hilariously inept Ralph the Elf.  Together with Mrs. Santa, (yours truly) they decide to put up a Christmas tree, just as they do every year.  What could possibly go wrong?  Stuffed to the brim with slapstick, this is a cheery little show for younger children.  You can see more information on this, and other shows and workshops for Christmas on the new Christmas Events page, (CLICK HERE).

Don’t forget we have a page with shows and workshops for Halloween events too, (CLICK HERE).


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