Countess Gertrude

Countess Gertrude, concept designed by Grace McComisky from Mervyn Peake's trilogy Gormenghast.

‘Gormenghast’ by Mervyn Peake is a text I’ve been working with for a while and a project that I think I will be working on for the rest of my life, ‘Gormenghast’ by Mervyn Peake. This is a text my dad introduced to me and I find the characters the most interesting out of any book I’ve ever read.

On my degree I worked on the characters ‘Fuchsia Groan’ and ‘Barquentine’, both of which I plan to revisit but currently my deepest interest is in ‘Countess Gertrude’. In ‘Gormenghast’ all the characters are very isolated and lonely. ‘Gertrude’ finds her companionship in nature but through the years has supressed her emotions so much she has become a fully selfish individual. She neglects all the things around her including the birds and cats she choses for her friends. These are ‘chained’ to her and she rarely remembers to cater for their own needs, i.e. never feeds them, drags them round with her killing them without realising.

To me ‘Gormenghast’ is a fantasy world where magic does exist. Strange things occur without explanation and the living can sometimes seem like the undead. ‘Gertrude’ keeps hold of the birds that she thinks she loves and they get fused to her hair. after years of being there they are merely skin and bones and seem to be controlled by her own emotions. When she is comforted they form a nest with her hair and when she is angry and enraged they fly manically around her head twisting and tangling up her long hair. Sometimes in her sleep she turns over and a bird doesn’t fly away in time. The bird gets fused into her deep, ‘saggy’ flesh and goes rancid in her flesh. She also wears her cats as a cloak on her back. Some of the cats manage to feed on birds that fall from her hair every now and again but mostly they are rotting and dying into her cloak.

Bird Puppet to fly in 'Countess Gertrude's' hair made by Grace McComisky.

So I’ve started making this complex character. Here is one of the bird puppets that will appear in her hair. It was made using sculpey light so is very light weight which will help when it lays in the wig. I always aim to make my things as light as possible so that they are more comfortable for the actor to wear.

When this whole character is complete I plan to film a performance of the piece which will then be posted up online for you to watch!

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