Programme Note: The Big Picnic
On Monday 4 August (17.45), GFT host the 20th anniversary screening of The Big Picnic, as broadcast by BBC Scotland in 1996 and recorded live at the former Harland & Wolff Engine Shed Govan, Glasgow, 28 Sep – 13 Nov 1994.
Given the chance to explain The Big Picnic and what I set out to achieve I have decided two things, one; not to explain, and two, pay tribute.
In my professional life I have never had closer collaboration than with Bill Dudley, John Tams, Phil Cunningham, Stuart Hopps and Sebastian Graham- Jones. The parts of this show that are theirs are sometimes hard to measure. You see in the programme the specific work that is their responsibility, but it goes beyond that. Sometimes a song is suggested by a designer and sometimes a plan of design by a maker of tunes. This is genuine collaboration and the work of a fine creative family.
Also to the Producer and the Chairman and my friends Jim Higgins and Ed Crozier but, finally, its all for you the people of Govan and the audience beyond.
Bill Bryden CBE Background
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)
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 – Iain 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
Tim Reid, Glen Thompson, Lawrence Crawford, Kian Loose, Kenneth Reid, Barry Hunter, Stephen King, Kenneth McKie.
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
Associate Producer - Edward Crozier
Technical Consultant - Stewart Crosbie
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 MurrayBand
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
Bill Bryden – Author/Director
William Campbell Rough Bryden; born April 12, 1942, in Greenock, Scotland; son of George (an engineer) and Catherine (Rough) Bryden; married Deborah Morris (a potter), July 24, 1970; children: Dillon Michael George, Mary Kate. Career: Director, producer, playwright, and screenwriter. Royal Court Theatre, London, England, assistant to William Gaskill, 1966-68; Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, associate director, 1971; National Theatre, London, associate director, 1975; Cottesloe Theatre, London, director, 1978. BBC Scotland, head of drama, 1984-93; director, researcher, and scriptwriter for Scottish television. Awards, Honours: Laurence Olivier Award, director of the year, Society of West End Theatre, 1985, for The Mysteries.
Photos by Nobby Clark