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THE BIG PICNIC by Bill Bryden

Harland & Wolff Engine Shed, Govan, Glasgow
28 Sep – 13 Nov 1994 & BBC2 Television 1996

The Battle of The Somme and the subsequent trench warfare on the Western Front from 1914-1918, stamped the then-new 20th Century with its most enduring image: No Mans Land, that lethal wasteland of devastation which signalled the end of both innocence and faith with its sudden destruction of the natural world and human life by a completely new and terrifying mechanised process. It was this, strangely visual event that we wanted to describe and commemorate 80 years later and where better, we thought, than Harland and Wolff where we had staged The Ship in 1990. The shed seemed to contain the very essence of the early 20th Century machine age so appropriate for this most grim industrialised war.

We decided to lay out a section of the wasteland exploiting the great size of our shed/theatre. Because its very length of 250 feet was no more than the amount of ground sometimes gained after days of fighting which often cost thousands of lives. To utilise this epic space to the full, we again adopted the promenade style, where the audience move with the action so that they too advance along the 250ft and retreat and advance again and retreat again before the day is over. The other element in our wasteland is our version of the old theatrical device known as the Deus-ex-Machina or The God of the Machine, which in 17th Century theatre lowered in the Gods and the Goddesses. In our version, we have reinstated the bridge crane as used when the shed was first built and which rides on the original rails that can carry over 50 tonne. This mobile crane represents the remorseless, inhuman tide of destruction as it cruises back and forth, like a great bird scavenging over the battlefield. Its central icon is the Angel of Death, here called the Angel of Mons. She is a distillation of the many (over 10,000) sightings and mass hallucinations reported by allied soldiers, who saw visions of angels and folk heroes, saints and lost relatives in the sky over the Western Front. For us, she is the arbitrary hand of fate and the bringer of release from this hell.

In researching this piece, I have been struck by a paradox of trench warfare which many poets and artists have described and that is the terrible beauty of it all, particularly at night with the searchlights and starshell tracer bullets and gas clouds playing over the underground city of the trenches. We have tried to evoke this eerie firework display whose effect was so sinister, despite its beauty and scale. My own grandfather was gassed on the Somme but he would never talk to me about it. In working on our show, I have come closer to understand what he went through. William Dudley (Designer)

CAST

Colours – Jimmy Logan

Hughie Frizell – Russell Hunter

Billy Blair – Iain Connell

Frankie Nealon – Gary Bakewell

Morris Burns – William MacBain

Russell Enoch – Stuart Bowman

Norrie Beaton – Derek Riddell

Gus Adams – Lain MacColl

Miss Fensom – Morag Hood

Bunty – Juliet Cadzow

Nessie – Ashley Jensen

Rebecca – Victoria Nairn

Flora – Sandra McNeeley

Ian the Piper – Fred Morrison

Tam, a Miner – Lester Simpson

The Gaellain MacCaskill/Medical Orderly – Stephen Speed

An Angel – Deborah Pope

Oliver Roche Gordon – Sebastian Graham Jones

Gerhard Kupfler – Lewis Allan

Smythe – Freddie Boardley

SUPPORTING CAST

Tim Reid, Glen Thompson,Laurence Crawford, Kian Loose, Kenneth Reid, Barry Hunter, Stephen King, Kenneth McKie.

COMPANY

Director -
Bill Bryden

Co-Director -
Sebastian Graham Jones

Design -
William Dudley

Music -
John Tams

Additional Music -
Phil Cunningham

Movement -
Stuart Hopps

Lighting -
Chris Ellis

Producer -
Nicholas Newton

Technical Consultant -
Stewart Crosbie

Associate Producer -
Edward Crozier

General Manager -
Steven Thomson

Production Manager -
Simon Marlow
with David Thayers

Wardrobe Supervisors -
Anna Watkins with Carol Galloway

Stage Manager -
Anne Rushworth

Deputy Stage Manager -
Victoria Wynn

Assistant Stage Manager -
Ludo Wynn

Assistant Stage Manager -
Catherine Francis

Assistant to Stuart Hopps -
Stephen Speed

Sound Consultant -
Steve Jonas

Military Adviser -
Scott Weir

Automated Lighting -
Patrick Murray

BAND

Fred Morrison……pipes
Rod Paterson……vocals, acoustic guitar
James Prime……keyboards
John A Sampson……bugle, trumpet, whistles
Stuart Smith……bass guitar
Mike Travis……drums
Wendy Weatherby……vocals, cello, violin
Tadeusz Wyzgowski……Production Musical Director, vocals, guitars