The Phantom Captain Reviews

Party Piece devised & directed by Neil Hornick (Leicester University Arts Week, 1970)
‘It ended in chaos, but no one cared. Neil Hornick’s planned incitement to celebrate – a dramatic improvisation called “Party Piece” – succeeded… It was a most bizarre and exhilarating dramatic event.’ (Leicester Mercury)

‘Dr.Delirium Meets the Invisible Children devised and directed by Neil Hornick, Jean Michaelson & David Webster (‘Moonrock’ children’s event in Camden, 1971)
‘…we shouted the magic words “Doctor Delirium for Prime Minister!” and felt better for it’  (The Sunday Times)

Kingdom Come: The Art & Craft of Pornography by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara (1972)
‘Watch out Monty Python there’s an outfit called The Phantom Captain coming close behind you in the fine art of making fun of heavy-breathing subjects… a hit on the university circuit.’ (Sunday Times)
‘…perhaps the funniest and most original of the pure “entertainment” pieces this month’  (Plays and Players)
‘A genuinely unique event’  (Radio London)
‘…one of the most hilarious send-ups I’ve seen’  (Swindon Evening Advertiser)
‘A truly stimulating evening.’  (Spare Rib)
‘Full marks!’  (Men Only)

The Phantom Captain – a Full Explanation written & directed by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara (1973/75)
‘Come back Phantom Captain. It was a dark and stormy night for theatre traditionalists at the Victoria Hall, Southborough, on Saturday. But The Phantom Captain performance art group, which caused the mental tempests, also offered for those who wanted it a passage through the rough seas of satirical parody, uncertainty and sheer zaniness’ (Tunbridge Wells Courier)

Mixed Feelings workshops by Neil Hornick (1973)
‘On the whole the NUS Drama Festival would have been a wasted week if it had not been for the workshops organised by the Festival… I myself was a grateful and enthusiastic participant in Cindy Oswin’s voice workshop and in a small encounter group led by Neil Hornick, alias The Phantom Captain. This group ended with an all-night eight-hour session, in which structured games were used to bring about unusual personal confrontations and to explore new means of communication.’  (Plays and Players)
‘Neil Hornick alias The Phantom Captain left his unmistakeable mark on the [N.U.S. Drama] festival whether it was creating chaos in the foyer with his new form of monopoly based on photographs from the programme or wielding a borrowed video-camera whilst looking behind his Sunday Times mask and portrait of the Queen.’  (Sennet [London University newspaper], 1974).

What To Do On A Date (a.k.a. Our Story Exactly) by Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara, based on a pamphlet by Daniel A. Lord, S.J., directed by Neil Hornick (1973)
‘A bizarre and exotic evening with The Phantom Captain is strongly recommended… It will change your life in no little way and may even now be altering the laws of the cosmos.’  (Sennet)

Service Inclusive (a.k.a. The Serviette Union) devised by Neil Hornick, Joel Cutrara and the company (1973)
‘…manages to keep the audience in a constant froth of happy uncertainty.’ (Evening Standard)
‘An odd and decadent evening… the weirdest waiters you have ever encountered and a menu to match.’  (Time Out)
‘…by all accounts a more reliable entertainment than the food.’  (Eating Out column, Time Out)

A Bite Out devised and written by Neil Hornick, David Gale, Cindy Oswin & Ian Johnson, directed by Neil Hornick (1973)
‘In any other age they would have been burned as witches, excommunicated by Churchmen, imprisoned by Governments, or locked in an asylum; today we call people like The Phantom Captain an “experimental theatre company” and go to them for our entertainment… It’s not only disgusting and gratuitous, it’s also very funny.’ (The Stage and Television Today)
‘…sophisticated… and totally British in its ironic arrogance, its ferocious sense of the absurd, its disconcerting counterpoint.’ (Le Monde, France)
‘They said it featured sex, violence and the abuse of foodstuffs. And they did not lie. I have never seen foodstuffs so abused in my life.’  (The Daily Record, Edinburgh)

The Phantom Captain Book of Books by Neil Hornick (Premature Publications, 1973)
‘In this age of instant books, disposable novels and the rest, Neil Hornick, of that splendid fringe theatre group, The Phantom Captain, has come up with what must be the ultimate in publisher’s catalogues… a description of books and “reader services” which Hornick would love to write if he had the time and energy.’ (The Guardian)

Write-Off publications (1974)
‘The only promotional literature to come our way this issue that actually had the editors in stitches. Sewn up with admiration in fact for the zany, surreal humour of Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara, who are The Phantom Captain (maybe) and have been around in a post-Monty-Python-world-still-trying –to-take-itself-seriously for a few years now. The Sunday Times loves them, the Daily Mirror doesn’t understand them, which must say something about where they are at.’  (British Theatre Institute newsletter)

Howdy, Stranger devised and written by the company (1973):
‘…a very good Christmas treat is the bizarre and amiable group The Phantom Captain’  (Time Out)
‘Neil Hornick is a singular imitator of suburban quirks which The Phantom Captain follow through relentlessly to their logical conclusion, like last year’s Cowboy Convention held by the Whetstone Wild West Appreciation Society which had us in stitches at the Howff. Their sense of humour is exceptionally dry, probably too deadpan for some tastes, but a bizarre and amusing evening can be expected. Recommended.’  (Time Out)

Secretians, or the Secret Service devised and written by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara, directed by Neil Hornick (1975)
‘Jarry would have been delighted: it was the most pataphysical thing you could imagine… When not adopting the incarnation of a Church, the PC is recognizable as an inventive and ingenious alternative theatre group… unflagging dignity and composure… It communicates its own quizzical spirituality, through precise words and measured gestures… so complete and gently thoughtful is the working-out of the naval metaphor that the audience accepts it and becomes the Phantom Captain’s midshipmen.’  (The Guardian)
‘It is all very weird; one laughs a lot. But the clever thing is that not only do they poke fun at sectarian church and nautical customs but also at a certain kind of experimental theatre fashionable during the late sixties… the construction of the performance is excellent and is presented with an ironic intelligence by Neil Hornick’ (Haarlems Dagblad, Holland)
‘…it is very cleverly done, very carefully thought out, very carefully worked and rehearsed, and is very effective as an overall piece of drama. It does seem to me that there is a possibility that this could be taken as a serious psychological or sociological experiment.’  (Dr. Chris Evans, BBC Radio’s Kaleidoscope)
‘Phantom Captain tend to really get inside their work and have, so they say, become a religious cult’ (Time Out)

Hand-held Follies of 1975 devised by the company for The Video Show, Serpentine Gallery (1975)
‘Best of all were the performances. The one that impressed me most was created by The Phantom Captain’s Eye-Eye TV ensemble… it all added up to a mind-blowing sensation as mundane reality was casually demolished by these serious surrealists… The acting was fantastic.’  (Video & Audio-visual Review)

Chez Elles (a.k.a. The Charm School, 1975) devised and directed by Neil Hornick & Peter Godfrey, with Eksit Theatre Group
‘Images of life and death leave the audience feeling insecure about looking, joining in or walking away. For theatre-makers and theatre fans alike, a bitter and fascinating experience.’  (NRC Handelsblad, Holland)
Loaded Questions (a.k.a. Open to Question) devised and directed by Neil Hornick (1975)
‘I found the evening and the performers uncommonly engaging, the continuous interrogatory full of wit and odd associations, and the result diverting and curiously satisfying.’ (Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times)
‘England’s answer to the pataphysicians… This is a genuine enquiry, as the show amounts to a blank page for the public to fill in their own answers. For which purpose they are helped out with a stunningly imaginative sequence of projected photographs which give the obsessively verbal text a visual extension into dream.’  (Irving Wardle, The Times)
‘…as assured as anything seen in the fringe: lucid, precise, visually stunning and combining intellectual curiosity with theatrical potency.’  (Time Out)
‘An unusual piece of theatrical eccentricity.’  (The Daily Telegraph)
‘…rather weird and even unsettling in places but overall witty, extremely clever, polished and very amusing… intriguing and thought-provoking… Neil Hornick, the brilliant author of this theatrical entertainment, is striving to create a new 20th Century type of dramatically potent nonsense… Was there a member of the audience who did not find it invigorating, breathtaking, and totally engaging? I think not.’  (Yorkshire Post)
‘The acerbic, inventive, Phantom Captain School of Thought.’  (The Sunday Times)
‘The performers are disconcertingly aware… Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock? Loaded Questions is on the whole the good turtle soup.’ (The Observer)
‘It was a fascinating thought-provoking piece of theatre which had the audience riveted… The expert presentation made many of these [questions] hilarious, while at the same time striking the odd raw nerve… The whole production was slightly dreamlike and the trip was enhanced by some amazing film slides… It really is a fine production.’  (West London Observer)
‘…a daring and inventive piece, always prodding stale reactions and stock responses and in turn provoking the audience to question themselves’  (South Wales Echo)
‘…highly entertaining…’ (Bristol Evening Post)
‘…successful in being both disconcerting and funny…’ (Glasgow Herald)
‘…one of the most original and inventive fringe theatre groups in the country… Loaded Questions is a religious play. The whole dialogue is in questions, nearly all unanswerable, and ingeniously sustained by Jude Allen, Joel Cutrara and Neil Hornick… New Yorkers are in for an enigmatic treat this month, when the Phantom Captain appears for the first time there.’ (Hendon Times)
‘…wryly witty… The querists are three charming, attractive professional actors… this interrogative tirade is backed by a wonderfully eclectic, often bizarre sequence of slide projections’  (The Villager, New York)
‘…a masterly concert for three questioning players… gradually you get absorbed into the language of questions and its expressive power… very surprising, often funny, and sometimes very thought-provoking… After a while you forget the linguistic tour de force and you listen to the questions as if they were clear messages. The result is a virtuoso “etude” for three voices which is a source of pleasure for the attentive listener’  (De Volkskrant, Holland)
‘…fascinating performance… the effect is startling, and instead of becoming bored one gets interested… what was shown here was more than simply formal theatre. The three actors know how to evoke effects which go deeper than just appreciation of their often weird script inventions… and, above all, they make the audience think.’  (Telegraaf, Holland)
‘…throughout this most enigmatic of performances not a statement was to be heard. With its undermining of all certainties, “Loaded Questions” was a most disconcerting show.’  (Performance Magazine)

Artitypes devised by Neil Hornick and the company (1977)
‘Two hundred children, ranging from five to 15 years old, revelled in a world of nonsense at The Hexagon… The couple of hundred kids… lapped up the free, zany fun provided by the irrepressible Phantom Captain. The ice cream and lucky-dip stalls were no competition to the ludicrous entertainment provided by the London actors.’  (The Reading Chronicle)

The Changeness Congress by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara, directed by Neil Hornick (1977)
‘The Phantom Captain has made a breakthrough: it must be the first group ever to make particle physics sexy. Technically extraordinarily accurate … the Phantom Captain is really lifting its eyes to quite another plane of being… Comedy and cabaret are the troupe’s style, good songs (well sung) and laughter; good popular theatre… It attempts to make a pop, rough religion out of particle physics and mysticism… No formal philosophy for the Phantom, but deep truth nevertheless. Very Zen.’ – New Scientist. ‘even better use of slides [than Loaded Questions] and an impeccably contrasting set which changes from black-and-white austerity to multi-coloured opulence during the interval… genuinely different.’  (Time Out)
‘…a group of controlled and grave actors who do what I can describe only as a sort of verbal performance art.’ (The Observer)
‘…it is startling and effective… No doubt there are some who will treat this show with utmost gravity. But I bet they don’t get half as much enjoyment out of it as I did.’  (Islington Gazette)

The Phantom Captain’s Blackouts by Peter Godfrey and the company (1978)
‘The line-up is impressive and often highly entertaining… especially recommended for the nostalgic.’ (Time Out)

Ist Church of the Phantom Captain (Reformed) (1978)
‘The English mime group, The Phantom Captain, marched along the Graben in slow motion. Characters who could have come from the pages of a Wilhelm Busch story. Hundreds wandered along. Delightful…’ (Neue Kronen Zeitung, Vienna)

The Chapel of Rest by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara (Death Festival/Symposium, Rotterdam, 1978)
‘…an almost surrealist funeral chapel in which one could act out an experience of dying. The ambiance was a mixture of rest, contemplation, but perhaps also confusion and menace… The visitors were invited to perform their fantasies and ideas of the dying process and death. By means of the atmosphere, the setting, music, light and sound, visitors were stimulated to create their own theatre (and to watch it). It was really fascinating to see the reactions of medical students, general staff, nursing staff and physicians (medical staff) because they are supposed to be familiar with dying and death. In that death-bed environment quite serious discussions developed between all the participants about emotional experiences aroused by daily confrontation with ill and dying people.’ (De Dood Incognito by Hans van de Braak and Loes Brünott, pubished by Kooyker-Rotterdam)

The Prisoner of Zen by Peter Godfrey (Oval House Theatre Upstairs, November 1978)
‘A strong script, with superb acting and some anarchically funny moments. Recommended.’  (Time Out)
‘…rare Thespian talent and a tormenting anarchic wit.’  (The Scotsman)
‘…well performed and very funny… they have a strong, successful source of healthy satire…’  (Performance Magazine)
’A particularly clever cloak and dagger affair… it is imbued with a unique surreal quality… Cindy Oswin as the princess was particularly good… a very clever show.’  (Radio Forth, Edinburgh)

The Sheerealist Platform by Neil Hornick (1979)
‘…succeeded in establishing a climate of real unease and magic in the Lyttelton Theatre.’  (Michael Kustow, Associate Director, the National Theatre)
‘…superb nonsense… gives an insight into the British theatre, so keen on experimental possibilities…’  (General-Anzeiger, Bonn)

The Foreign Office devised by Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara (Sitjes Festival, Spain, 1979)
‘…we think it very appropriate to be led into the Festival by this group, which guarantees a good running of events… one observes a very measured, prepared and careful improvisation… giving birth to the group work in a total “symbiosis” between theatre and reality.’ (El Corrio Catalan)
‘…they succeeded in a very efficient way to surprise and to entertain and to make the audience participate, with a high standard of professionalism.’ (Revista Jano, Spain)

Abracadabra Honeymoon- A Romance in Various Positions by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara (1980)
‘…that rarest of theatrical phenomena: a show about sex that is witty, playful and erotic. I hope it is not meant to have any great philosophical purpose; to me it is simply a celebration of the joys of heterosexual love and an account of the way relations change in the intimacy of the bedroom… the abiding impression is of the joy of sexuality and of the way our private lives are a strange blend of ecstasy, coarseness and friction. What I like about the show is its total lack of solemnity… It also in a phrase or two manages to sum up quite subtle notions about our simultaneous hunger for possession and liberty… But the real virtue of the piece is that it is quintessentially theatrical… The piece may have hidden shallows: but what delighted me was its uninhibited emphasis on the pleasure rather than the pain of coupling… Indispensable.’ (Michael Billington, The Guardian)
‘I am all in favour of Abracadabra Honeymoon… Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara have evolved a style for their group which succeeds in combining a love of linguistic rediscovery with a splendidly precise theatricality… the evening is strong and enjoyable, managing both to celebrate and satirise its theme in a fresh and inventive manner.’ (Time Out)
‘If, like a crab, the tide of passion could run backward, then its sanded reflection might well be that of The Phantom Captain. This latest creation by Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara is immensely stylish…it is erotic but retains always an impish sense of fun… magnificently designed.’ (The Stage)
‘A true magical tour… this production does precisely what every one of their best productions have, namely, to bring us eyeball to eyeball with ourselves. The techniques they use to make this happen are a source of fascination… they are one of the very few companies who are unashamed of a theatre-full of middle class theatregoers… you left the theatre with a beaming smile… … painstakingly thought out and meticulously engineered… The cast of four was uniformly good…The Phantom Captain have a saying that they want their audience to slip on the banana skin only to find themselves standing on their heads eating the banana. This is precisely the process they achieve in this production – a remarkable achievement.’ (Performance Magazine)

Wake-athon by Neil Hornick & Joel Cutrara (1981)
‘…in a sense, an invitation to sleepwalk with your eyes open because the show forms part of a highly unconventional season of boundary-breaking experiences… the images created are striking… devised with a good degree of ingenuity by Neil Hornick and Joel Cutrara.’ (The Daily Telegraph)
‘”Wake-athon” must be experienced, it need not be understood. What struck me was the mutual respect between cast and directors, and the crew’s almost aggressive loyalty to the PC helmsmen, loyalty that grew from day to day…’ (The Stage)

General and various:
‘…the unalloyed pleasure of an encounter with the refreshing and original wit of The Phantom Captain…’ (John Ashford, Time Out)
‘…one of the most quizzical of British theatre groups… they have been described as Vision Mongers, Environ Mentalists, Scene Shifters, Masters of Ceremonies and Entertainers of Ideas; a mixed bag indeed.’ (Evening Standard)
‘The Phantom Captain bridges the gap between encounter therapy and theatre workshop with its constantly bizarre, often surreal, but always novel repertoire of entertainments.’  (The Stage)
‘This eminent surrealist group, characterised by the variety of their performances, merited the praise of public and specialised critics alike… one of the most distinguished experimental groups in Europe… in the Placa de Catalunya they managed to attract the interest of over 500 people, who were at first surprised and then became fascinated by the humour and the performing skill of the group members… the four “Phantoms” demonstrated a great spatial sense and a very interesting vision of movement and communication… Their audacious experiences may serve as a rebarbative to the blasé public used to conventional theatre without imagination… this British company offers a very personal interpretation and investigation of the theatrical event.’ (Diario de Barcelona, 1978)
‘The four actors who form the troupe possess an extraordinary technical command of performance and have an almost inexhaustible capacity for improvisation.’ (Mundo Diario, Barcelona, 1978)
‘The Phantom Captain… an extraordinary phenomenon, a cult attraction with literary leanings and considerable public appeal.’  (The Stage, 2000)

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