Outside Edge: Dominic Cavendish on the paper people in the Park

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The Independent Culture
QUITE what people wandering through London's Battersea Park that morning thought is anybody's guess. The dozen men and women, all dressed to the nines in bits of old newspaper and striding along to the sound of recorder and drum certainly caused heads to turn at the lakeside cafe. Joggers stopped jogging, a child was almost reduced to tears by a man in a paper Viking helmet and several dogs barked uncontrollably.

'What's all this in aid of?' ventured one elderly couple as the group returned to All Saints Church across the road. 'We're just having fun,' replied a woman with the words 'God is Love' sellotaped to her head-dress. James Roose-Evans's newspaper workshop was proving to be 'quite fun'. Hours earlier the prospect of creating God out of newspaper with the West End theatre director and non-stipendiary Anglican priest had filled the assembled actors, drama therapists and teachers, with trepidation. But the morning's work was simply an initiation exercise in cutting and sticking performed to the music of Neil Diamond.

Only after lunch were participants asked to dress Frank, an actor, as a deity. 'Don't think too much, just let the images come,' admonished Roose-Evans, 66, as he put on a tape of Gorecki's Third Symphony. After a while a woman produced a heart and sellotaped it to Frank's chest. Then the images came thick and fast: a spiky quasi-halo, photo-montages of young babies culled from Sunday supplements and cascades of paper.

Gathered in a circle, the group then waited for something to happen. 'Perhaps you want to communicate with the god Frank,' suggested Roose-Evans. A man threw down his shirt in the sacred circle, hissing. Robot- like, the god began walking round the room. Several prostrated themselves; one woman started chanting. But most thumped the floor wildly, egging on a man who had thrown a bundle of paper in the god's direction. The two became involved in a tussle which the challenger lost.

'That was a horrible god,' said one woman afterwards, visibly shaken. Others reflected on the god's vulnerability. Frank seemed untroubled by the criticisms. Being God, he said, was quite intimidating. 'You can hear people sticking things on to you, and you can't stop them.'

Roose-Evans, author of Re:Joyce], developed the workshop after a production of Macbeth in 1970 and believes it can reawaken a sense of ritual in anyone. 'Sometimes nothing happens,' he admits. 'At the National Theatre studio recently, the actors tore down their god and replaced it with a stronger goddess. It was very moving.' The final ritual of the day was comparatively simple: gathering up the used newspaper and putting it into black plastic bags. - James Roose-Evans's book 'Passages of the Soul' is published by Element on 17 Mar

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