As I was going through my bookshelves this week I ran across "The Horse's Mouth: Staging Morpugo's War Horse," by Mervyn Millar. This immediately got me to wondering: what is Millar up to? A few hours later, I happened to find myself reading the Telegraph's website, and I found the answer: Millar has been in rehearsal with a new piece, "Crow," which begins performances on Thursday, June 21, in London as part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, itself part of the Cultural Olympiad.
Millar - or Merv, as he's known to the LCT "War Horse" cast members he helped rehearse here in 2011 - pitched the show, which is based on poems by Ted Hughes, to Ruth Mackenzie of the Olympiad project, and then set about interesting Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, founders of Handspring Puppet Company, which did Puppet Direction, Design, and Fabrication for "War Horse." Ben Duke of Lost Dog dance company is also involved with "Crow."
Talking about the project, Merv is his usual wonderful combination of information and wit. He compares Vietnamese water puppets to Chinese shadow puppets to West African puppets that perform outdoors for 12 hours in a space with no lighting. Speaking of his educational background, Merv continues: "My comprehensive school didn't do drama, so I didn't know what was not acceptable. I thought puppets would be useful but everyone said, 'That's very interesting,' which is English for 'wrong.'"
For "Crow," Merv and his co-designer, Ed Dimbleby, have created the bird in various incarnations, from lifesize bird to a monstrous figure requiring five puppeteers.
As for Hughes's source material itself, the first Crow poems appeared on broadsides and in limited-edition books. In 1970, "Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow," was published, and it has since been reprinted several times. It does not contain any of the various fragments of explanatory commentary that Hughes added whenever he read the poems in public or on tape.
A final note: that Merv and Handspring's current project should involve the work of Hughes has a nice symmetry. Michael Morpugo, upon whose "War Horse" novel all the "War Horse" industry is based, was a friend of the poet. In addition, Morpugo has written that Hughes was to him "a huge literary hero." They were neighbors in Devon, and collaborated on "All Around the Year," a book about the farm that Morpugo and his wife, Clare, started 30 years to bring city children into the countryside.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.