Between December 8th and 18th, the Tron Theatre will be presenting high man pen meander, a virtual promenade performance to celebrate #EdwinMorgan100, which has been conceived & directed by Andy Arnold. Andy has been kind enough to share his thoughts with us below.
Can you tell us about the title of the show?
It’s a line from Edwin’s poem Pomander and it felt right – this is a promenade show and the audience will meander… I wouldn’t want to apply any more rationale than that!
The blurb for high man pen meander promises that ‘the walls will echo with the voices and sounds of Glasgow’s most famous bard’ – can you tell me about the techniques you will be using in this production to bring a feel of exploring the back rooms and corners of the Tron in a virtual space?
With no public allowed into our building the camera will be the audience … being drawn along by an old Maitre D’ down dark corridors to discover performers in waiting. I want to give the feeling of a locked up and blacked out theatre building where we come across artists occupying spaces … practicing their crafts and constantly waiting and waiting for the lights to come back on. At one point we come across the auditorium itself and hear a Morgan line – ‘The theatre’s empty. What? Have you gone home?’
As a theatre director in Glasgow, you have a unique insight into Edwin Morgan’s theatrical and poetic works – how did you decide on the readings and scenes selected for high man pen meander?
We put a call out to artists to submit ideas for performance of Edwin’s work and the choices were theirs. Death of Marilyn Monroe, One Cigarette, The Stobhill Porter, The Lochness Monster’s Song – in other words a variety of choices and ones which leant themselves to theatricality. I encouraged Gerry Mulgrew to perform a character from Cyrano de Bergerac since it was Gerry who commissioned Edwin to do the adaptation for his company Communicado and Gerry is a brilliant actor. Also I have put in one or two of my own favourites eg a few verses from Glasgow Sonnets, and our designer Ruth Darling has come up with a wonderfully inventive way of staging some concrete poems. We only have 40 minutes so we have left a lot of brilliant work out – maybe we will stage a ‘Part Two’ version one day …
Gerry Mulgrew, who directed Edwin Morgan’s Scots translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, is one of the performers in high man pen meander. Could you tell us about the other performers and their response to Edwin Morgan’s work?
The universal appeal of Edwin’s work is reflected by the range of artists who came forward with ideas – film makers, installation artists, drag artists, performance poets, street performers, and actors. I wish we could have included more than we have. We auditioned a large number of people and it was a fascinating experience. It was interesting that, from the thousand of poems Edwin wrote, there were one or two poems that several people submitted and with vastly different interpretations on performance ideas.
You worked with Edwin Morgan at The Arches, can you tell me about the performance and your memories of this time?
I didn’t work with Edwin as such. The very first production we staged at the Arches was Noise and Smoky Breath – Glasgow poems and songs from the book of that name. I got in touch with Edwin to ask permission to stage some of his poems which I thought were truly wonderful and he was happy to oblige. He visited the Arches a few times while I was there to see a theatre production and he always greeted me with that incredibly warm smile of his. I was slightly in awe to be honest – such an amazing poet.
You have previously directed Liz Lochhead’s Edwin Morgan’s Dreams And Other Nightmares, which was based on Edwin Morgan’s life. How do you seek to celebrate/ pay tribute to someone who has passed away, while maintaining a sense of drama?
I don’t think we were setting out to celebrate or pay tribute to Edwin. Rather the play is about a creative and complex individual and focuses particularly on his thoughts and ideas in his final years. The fact that it is a play about a Scottish artist who is much loved adds to the fascination in the piece. Coupled with that it is written by someone who was a very close friend and colleague of Morgan and who indeed followed on from him as Scotland’s Makar. To have Liz’s insight with us in the rehearsal room did make it something special.
What is your favourite Edwin Morgan poem, work or memory?
That’s difficult – I have always favoured the stark and sometimes sinister works which focus on the city’s dark side – Glasgow Green stands out. Equally I would argue for The Whittrick dialogue poems – so wonderfully clever and lyrical.