ARTS / Production Notes: The aerial artist Deborah Pope on playing an angel in Bill Bryden's pounds 1m epic play The Big Picnic

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The Independent Culture
THE FIRST thing to say is that we're in a massive theatre space, the Harland and Wolff Engine Shed in Govan, Glasgow. It's the size of a football pitch. I hang from the roof, 37ft up. On one side there's a promenading audience on three levels. Above me, there's a moving gantry with a band on it, and, below, 40 actors in kilts, carrying imitation weapons, up to their ankles in mud. We've all had colds from the mud.

It's a difficult space for the actors on the ground to play because it's not a traditional theatre - you're not even playing in the round. So, in many ways, I have it much easier than the others. The air is a different space from the ground, and I feel that my image goes out easily. People can see me from all sides, whereas the other actors have to approach an audience more directly, and they have to speak.

The play tells the tale of young men from Glasgow, who fought in the First World War. My character, the Angel of Mons, was the largest mass hallucination of the Great War. There were 10,000 sightings. The Angel had a benevolent quality: some people feel that he / she / it saved them, and others felt that it took their friends to safety. But there's also an edge to this angel: she's also the Angel of Death.

During the five weeks of rehearsals, the choreographer Stuart Hopps and I would try things out, then we'd take it to Bill (Bryden) and he'd decide whether he liked it. Stuart and I came into the shipyard space from the beginning, while the others rehearsed in the Co-operative Hall. Some things, we found, didn't work. For example, I had done another show with Stuart and Bill, The Cunning Little Vixen for the Royal Opera, and in that I used a trapeze. But in this production it's not appropriate. It speaks of the circus, a little too much of tricks.

And, of course, what I do is also governed by the equipment, for example a 2ft-high steel crane hook that's attached to a hoist to lift me up and down. The industrial equipment suits me entirely, but it's very different from circus equipment, which is specially designed to your needs.

Above all, I'm not trying to make people say, 'My God, that girl is hanging by her foot.' Training gave me technical skills, but the job is still to communicate. If I can get someone to say, just for a second, 'That was an angel', that will be a success.

Interview by Adrian Turpin

To 30 Oct. Box office: 041-242 3666

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