O monstrous! O strange!
February 2020 - February 2021
A research and development project funded by Creative Scotland.
A research and development project taking two Shakespeare characters as a starting point, exploring their connection to heritage sites and British colonial history. Resulting in a plan for a film produced by Pollyanna arts company, featuring and co-directed by a group of cabaret performers.
‘O monstrous! O strange!’, is a quote from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. The project explaores th play being about ‘strange’ desires, echoing queer experiences, and people being viewed as ‘monstrous’, echoing the act of othering. The play is globally significant, yet has connections to two Scottish sites – Puck’s Glen and Stirling Castle.
Puck’s Glen, a forge in Cowal, is named after the fairy character Puck. The year before A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was written there was a plan for a lion to pull a chariot through Stirling Castle. This was cancelled due to fear of scaring people. In A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream there is a line about one of the character’s being too scary for the women at the royal court if dressed as a lion. It is thought that this is a joke referencing the incident at Stirling Castle.
Research for the project so far has found British colonial history underlying these connections. At Stirling Castle the lion due to be pulling a chariot was replaced with an unnamed Black person pulling the chariot, not stated if they were a slave, servant, or paid performer. Centuries later, trees and paths were added to Puck’s Glen by the former owner, an 19th century sugar refining business owner.
Over 12 months Pollyanna director Adam Castle is researching the characters, folklore, the sites, their history, colonial contexts and connections to the play. This will result in a plan for a film based created through collaboration.
In the next stages of the project, Pollyanna will commission Black cabaret artists to create new performances on any theme that they choose. These will be performed and filmed in the heritage sites in 2021, resulting in a moving image work that is blend of cabaret and film. This film will be co-directed and authored by the commissioned performers. It will then be exhibited and toured with workshops and performances in 2021/22.
This research and development stage of the project is funded by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland. With partnership, support and/or assistance from Royal Scottish Academy, Historic Environment Scotland, Forestry and Land Scotland, Dunoon Burgh Halls, Argyll & Bute Council, CHARTS Argyll & Bute and The Fruitmarket Gallery.
Image: Illustration from the title page of Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests (1629)