Dates: 15.03.2013 and 26.04.2013
Location: Golders Green
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technicians: Xi-mali Kadeena and Sara Scalzotto
Topics List: David Cleall
Audio Track 1 – 01:40:36
Audio Track 2 – 00:34:00
Audio Track 3 – 01:31:54
Audio Track 4 – 03:02:22
For video timings please see Neil Hornick video Topics List
N.B. Owing to technical problems, part of this interview was re-recorded. This transcript includes both versions, without differentiating between them, resulting in some repetition and scrambled chronology. The interview also largely omits coverage of The Phantom Captain company’s latter years.
Audio Track 1
00:00:00 Overview. Looking back, Neil Hornick (NH) is struck by how prolific and productive the late 1960s and 1970s had been for his company – street theatre, stage productions, infiltrations, ‘environ-mentals’, tape/slide shows, etc., stimulated by work done by other companies and by the zeitgeist – it was the era of fringe theatre and performance art. New and exciting work departed from the norm, redefining the relationship between the performer and the audience.
00:04:40 Personal background. Parents were born in the East End to Polish-Jewish immigrant family (arrival in 1880s). NH [born in 1939] was brought up in Hendon, a suburban middle-class background, father a lithographic artist. Went to Christ’s College Grammar School in Finchley. As a schoolboy was a prankster, partly influenced by an American book he’d read at 14, The Compleat Practical Joker [by H. Allen Smith] – interested in the way such jokes interfered with everyday, normal life. Later the pranks became more elaborate, such as staging surrealist events on tube trains. These actions were designed to be unfathomable – stunts that couldn’t be rationally explained. NH and a friend also wrote a fake ‘serious’ play, Blood and Darkness, presented as a reading in their English class – a play about Jewish heritage including many built-in absurdities – ‘blurring the boundaries between theatre and reality’, anticipating in many ways the work NH was to go on to do in The Phantom Captain. His parents kept up Jewish traditions but were not very religious, going to synagogue only on religious festivals. NH went to Hebrew classes and was barmitzvahed, He didn’t take this seriously, it was tiresome, just an opportunity to fool around, but it did contribute to him becoming atheist. He tended to look down on the Jewish community [in younger days]; it threatened him and he didn’t want to be ‘defined by it’. Parents wanted him to be a respectable Jewish professional – however he was so insistent on doing what he pleased that ultimately they had no choice in the matter. Older brother did live the model Jewish life. Pranks at Hebrew class included cruel practical jokes, which NH now regrets.
00:30:20 University and PGCE. Went to UCL, London, to study psychology (1958-61), planning to be a child psychologist, having been inspired by a radio programme on mental health. Was quite idealistic, wanting to help people. Psychology was the right choice of subject for him and would have an influence on his subsequent career. At university NH also got very interested in drama, joining the Drama Society and playing a director in Six Characters in Search of an Author. NH was a frequent theatregoer – Royal Court, Waiting for Godot, Joan Littlewood, absurdist drama – and this all had an influence on him. From schooldays had been involved in school dramatics and also amateur dramatics. At university NH co-wrote a revue. After graduating, went on to Goldsmiths to work for a post-grad teaching qualification. He hated it: it was dull, highly conventional and he was staying in a hall of residence run by a martinet. He felt isolated and was envious of the Goldsmiths art students, whose style was more in line with his taste. NH got expelled from his hall of residence for singing two authentic but bawdy folk songs at a student concert in the presence of the warden’s family. He refused to apologise and used it as an opportunity to drop out of the course and in 1961 went to live in Paris.
00:49:38 Busking, folk music, and drama at Bristol. In Paris, NH and an old schoolfriend, David [Cronin], joined forces and became street musicians (playing English and American folk music), supplemented with teaching English. Then busked around Europe (1961-63). This planted the seeds for his later interest in street theatre – after being arrested for busking, and dealing with hecklers, street theatre would hold no fear for him. An American joined them in Copenhagen and the trio became ‘The Sidewalkers’, cutting an [unreleased] record of their music. In 1963, NH, David and three other friends went on a year-long overland trip by Land Rover to India. Returning to London in 1964, NH had an urge to write (short stories) and performed with DC in folk-clubs in London, e.g. Bunjies [off Charing Cross Road] and The Hole in the Ground (Swiss Cottage) where they were the resident act. Researched folk music at Cecil Sharp House and also some part-time paid psychology research work. But hit a creative dead-end with folk singing and decided to study drama. A Post-Grad Directing course (1965-66) at Bristol University Drama Dept (Prof. Glynne Wickham) suited him perfectly – he acted, wrote and directed. Lecturer George Brandt was inspirational. The theme of the year was ‘Away from Naturalism’. NH was given a lot of freedom to devise and create a show on Dada and Surrealism (DadaDidactics), his chosen option, and began using exploratory improvisation techniques, including those of Viola Spolin and some of his own invention. This project and related research was a big influence on his later work. The final show was partly an environmental event using the stage but also various annexes. NH created some of the text and included extracts from Dadaist and surrealist texts. Free association (verbally and physically) came out of the improvisation workshops, giving rise to abstract sounds and actor-audience interaction.
01:12:53 Marowitz, Berman, Haynes and The Switch. On leaving Bristol, NH contacted Charles Marowitz (he knew CM from the folk scene and at Bristol had staged a one-act play of his). CM became NH’s ‘conduit into alternative theatre’. He was starting an experimental theatre workshop, The Cochrane Workshop (based at the new Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre) and he invited NH to be his assistant director, as he was often away working on productions. It was essentially an improvis workshop for professional actors (group included Thelma Holt and Cindy Oswin). Running the workshops was unpaid work and NH took a job (for one year) as Drama Lecturer at Hatfield Polytechnic and moved to Golders Green. Two of NH’s short absurdist plays [Can’t Help Loving You and Henry], drawn from his improvisation workshops, were staged at Ed Berman’s Ambiance Lunchtime Theatre (1968). Through Cindy (CO) [and ex-Switch members Jean Michaelson (JM) and David Webster (DW)], he got involved running some workshops for Wherehouse La Mama theatre company (founded by Beth Porter), joining the company to [devise,] direct and act in The Hilton Keen Blow Your Chances Top of the Heap Golden Personality Show of the Week (1969). NH also knew Jim Haynes (JH), who was setting up the Arts Lab, because JH and Charles Marowitz were buddies. JH invited NH to use ex-warehouse space that was to be the Drury Lane Arts Lab (before it was open to the public) for sessions by the improvisation troupe NH had set up called The Switch [known earlier as The Troupe].
01:28:30 The Gang Bang Show and Schneemann’s Round House happening Prior to creation of The Switch came NH’s [first professional production]The Gang Bang Show – a satirical musical play about the Vietnamese War for ‘Angry Arts Week’ [June 1967] at the Roundhouse – put together by activists [including Michael Kustow] against the Vietnam War. The show took the form of a ‘frontline’ entertainment’ performed for and by US troops in Vietnam. Like other public drama events at the time, a script had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, and there were objections to some of the language. The show was a revue and had several [co-writers] including Peter Buckman and an uncredited [pre-Python] Eric Idle. Cast included Jean Michaelson (later in Wherehouse La Mama), Adrian Harman (folk musician and former NH flatmate) and Brenda Dixon (an American dancer who became NH’s girlfriend prior to returning to America with The Open Theatre). Wesker’s scheme for The Roundhouse as community arts centre was not getting off the ground and the space was let for a series of radical events and performances. [The month after Angry Arts week] there was a major congress at the Roundhouse, The Dialectics of Liberation, [15-30th July 1967] with all the counter-culture gurus there. American artist Carolee Schneemann created a happening [titled Round House] and NH, Brenda Dixon and Mike Kustow performed in it. A wagon was hauled on stage and tipped out a load of garbage, including screwed up papers from the congress, with semi-naked performers emerging from the rubbish to enact scenarios relating to the ideas of the congress.
Audio Track 1 ends 01:40:36
Audio Track 2
00:00:00 Henry, Shamey and Peter Oliver. David Triesman [later the politician, Lord Triesman] was another person involved in the Round House happening. Another was Tony Woodward, later in NH’s improvisation group, The Switch. He disappeared mysteriously on holiday abroad and this inspired NH’s short play, Henry, performed at Ambiance (1968) – an absurdist piece based on improvisation about how a group copes with the sudden disappearance of a friend – bewilderment leads to speculation, then suspicion, then paranoia, before they carry on as if nothing had happened, the piece ending in an absurdist fashion with a further disappearance. Also involved [in Round House] was Shamey Maxwell [whom NH confuses here with Seamus Ewens who would in 1973 book The Phantom Captain at the Howff, a new venue in Chalk Farm, despite Peter Oliver of Oval House strongly advising him not to.]
00:07:16 The Phantom Captain (PC). The Phantom Captain grew out of various experimental activities of NH in the late 60s. A number of members of NH’s improv troupe were in Wherehouse La Mama and when they were looking to get a touring company together, NH joined them. This worked for a while but there was a bit of a power struggle between Beth Porter (BP) and NH, who says the company purported to be a collective but was actually dominated by its founder (BP). After a year NH felt the need to break away and create something long-lasting over which he would have [declared] artistic control. He invited Jean Michaelson (from the Switch and La Mama), David Webster (also from the workshops and JM’s boyfriend) and an American, Rick Davis (who had also been with La Mama), to join the group. After much discussion the company came into being as The Phantom Captain (est.1970). It started small-scale and grew. Its first Arts Council grant came in 1972. The name was expressive of the ethos of the company, derived from a Buckminster Fuller idea (a sort of ‘ghosts-in-the-machine’ concept). It also had connotations of a populist superhero. NH got married that same year  and the group initially met in his Golders Green flat. Eventually [in 1977] they got premises – a house near Swiss Cottage. Phantom Captain was now established on the alternative theatre scene. [Joel Cutrara and] Peter Godfrey had [by then] joined the company and after a year or so in their house base [they called it ‘Wit’s End’] they moved to premises in Fleet Road that became a real base for the company, with rehearsal, office and storage space for props and costumes, and it even had a shop-front window [used for bizarre window displays] as it was nominally a second-hand book shop. Liz [Weston] was their first administrator, succeeded by Luke Dixon. Also in this location [in 1979] Rob La Frenais started Performance magazine.
00:21:00 Early PC shows. The Phantom Captain Meets the Phantom Captain (1971) was performed at Questors Theatre, a one-off event for an experimental theatre festival. The audience was divided into two halves facing each other, alternately lit with stage lights, each providing a spectacle for the other. There was no [script] content, but company members were planted among the audience to move things on a bit with comments. Eventually it became really chaotic – it was truly experimental theatre as the company had no idea of the outcome. This show may have been what Peter Oliver (of Oval House) was referring to when he criticised the company for ‘working up the audience into a real state of turmoil and leave them hanging there’. There was some continuity between Phantom Captain interventions and NH’s schoolboy pranks that he called [‘Experiments in rearranged reality’]. Whereas the work with The Switch had been stage-based, The Phantom Captain became as much concerned with street theatre and creating special environments that audiences ‘could be threaded through’. They were exploring many different modes of working – not only street theatre but also slide shows and print media. The Arts Lab movement also became popular in Holland – often based in unconventional performance spaces – and there were ‘themed festivals’ at De Lantaren Arts Centre, Rotterdam. One was a Festival of Crime: Phantom Captain performed several events, including an indoor piece and The Investigation Bureau , a ’kind of cop shop’ consisting of a labyrinth that the audience moved through. There were also street theatre spinoffs on this theme. Also in Holland, The Phantom Captain were commissioned to create the opening ceremony for a new simulated Haunted Castle in De Efteling theme park. They devised [Tortured Spirits, 1977] – there was [for once] a big budget and they recruited a mixed team of British and Dutch players. [Another popular street theatre event utilised] railway stations as they provided opportunities for ‘celebrity send-offs’ – members of the public were treated to VIP send-offs or welcomed with speeches – [they] ‘tried to give people a good time, spread a bit of happiness!’
Audio Track 2 ends 00:34:00
Audio Track 3
00:00:00 Heckling and politics. NH didn’t usually have problems managing heckling from audiences but an unusually difficult situation occurred at Brixton Town Hall [actually Battersea Town Hall Arts Centre, see 1975, Recording 4 below]. An infiltration piece was undermined by a political theatre group, Salakta Balloon Band, for [apparent] ideological reasons, through physical interference and ‘deflating’ the actors’ assumed characters to the extent that [at least one of them] had to withdraw. Some Phantom Captain pieces were provocative, but their impulse was always benign – one of their ‘cardinal tenets was to make people feel good’. Most of their work was not overtly political but there were some exceptions. ‘The Politics of the Phantom Captain’ – a speech given by NH in Utrecht in 1975 [at an International Symposium on Education, Therapy and Politics], was an attempt to explain their personal politics – e.g. ‘liberation of consciousness’– in contrast with the perceived agit-prop of companies like Salakta Balloon Band.
00:07:58 Some Phantom Captain collaborators. Joel Cutrara (JC) was NH’s longest-term collaborator (for 15 years from 1972). They met at a party through a mutual friend – Joel was from Chicago and had an advertising agency but also a background in theatre. Initially he kept both careers going, until Phantom Captain became established. He was warm and witty, smoked a lot of dope, which NH did too. He was more verbal than some of NH’s other collaborators, so the work took that leaning. He acted, wrote and had a ‘whacky surreal mind’. By the mid- 80s the partnership had become a bit stale and they went separate ways. [Much earlier] Utopia or Oblivion (1971) was a small front-of-curtain piece performed when the company was depleted – there was NH, Rick Davis and David Thomson. David Gale joined them after that – they collaborated on A Bite Out (1973) in which he was brilliant – with Cindy Oswin and Ian Johnson. It grew out of improvisation with NH directing. DG, CO and IJ broke away to form Lumiere and Son. Previously, NH’s first PC collaborators (Jean Michaelson and David Webster) left to follow Guru Maharajah’s Divine Light Mission.
00:16:52 Taking risks and learning to ‘take care of an audience’. Without a company in 1972 NH turned to creating art works / collages, staged two exhibitions – as he still valued the performance element he became an [oddball] exhibition attendant. His interest in collage led to his later enthusiasm for creating slide shows. This took various forms but the break-through slide-show, created with JC, was Kingdom Come – The Art and Craft of Pornography (1972). It was a satirical piece – NH and JC played unsavoury [academics] types giving a lecture on [improving artistic standards in pornography]. It was reviewed in The Times and was a bit of a breakthrough [for the partnership]. The collage exhibition, The Real Thing (1972) was provocative with regard to its sexual explicitness. NH took risks and was more radical in those days. Later he learnt how to ‘take care of his audiences’. When creating a piece for a themed festival in Holland on Death, at a medical university [The Chapel of Rest, 1978], PC combined a funeral parlour with a terminal ward, beds were laid out, and the company (3 or 4 performers) played funeral directors while also doubling as [terminally] sick patients lying on the beds. NH recalls improvising a monologue ‘on his deathbed’ and opening his eyes to see a visitor watching him in tears, which he found very moving. This [a new occurrence in one of his shows] made him reflect on the [profound] effect performance can have on audiences.
00:25:02 Fun Art Bus and A Bite Out. Also in 1972 NH wrote The Bus Hijack Mystery [BHM] for Ed Berman’s Inter-Action’s Fun Art Bus, following on from some Ambiance Theatre pieces [see earlier]. The BHM was directed by Naftali Yavin (NY) for TOC (The Other Company). NH knew NY through his [NH’s] wife who had an Israeli friend who was NY’s girlfriend. After Naftali died Ed asked NH to run TOC, but NH felt that he needed the freedom to develop his own work and ‘didn’t want to be swallowed up by Ed’s organisation’. The BHM was ‘a Goonish piece’ that was performed on the bus – Henry Goodman was in it and Patrick Barlow was stage manager. In 1973 A Bite Out came out of improvisations on the theme of foodstuffs. It was a stage piece but NH and JC also wanted to feature ‘infiltrations’ and so devised a Waiter Service – mini-happenings [ordered and] performed at the tables. The [stage] piece achieved more of a performance art quality than previous work. David Gale ‘brought his art school sensibility to the piece’ – it was performed at the Howff Theatre-Café after being toured as part of an Arts Council package (Delta Stopover). ‘It was a very beautiful, strange and bizarre piece’ – with effective use of music (Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings). Ian Johnson [IJ, one of the three players] also had an art school background – its artistic success was very much a result of the collaboration of the four of them (CO,DG, IJ &NH). It could be seen as ‘performance art’ (ref. to Roland Miller) on the grounds that there was little dialogue, great stress on the evolving drama of the visuals, and no audience participation – just a bizarre ritual. When A Bite Out was performed at Howff Theatre Café alongside The Phantom Captain’s Waiter Service, NH, JC and [others] interacted with the audience at tables and this item became a central part of their repertoire until the company’s end [in 2006].
00:36:10 Bath, The Front and What to Do On a Date, 1973. The Phantom Captain Emporium was performed at Bath’s Another Festival. The Natural Theatre of Bath (led by Ralph Oswick and Brian Popay) offered them the chance of performing in a shop front (as well its interior) – window display became part of their repertoire for a while after that. They were filmed at Bath [see Performance Art, David Bruton, Arts Council, 1975] along with Landscapes and Living Spaces (Roland Miller and Shirley Cameron) [plus John Bull Puncture Repair Kit and the recently formed breakaway company, Lumiere & Son (Gale, Oswin, Johnson)]. That year, NH also recorded the commentary for Ian Breakwell’s film Repertory. From 1973 they started to get more substantial financial support from the Arts Council – [represented by] Jonathan Lamede – and NH also met Sue Timothy of the Arts Council. The Front (Brunel University, 1973) took the form of a mock fresher’s induction programme, a satire on [reactionary] Higher Education for which they created ‘a gallery of grotesques’ – it became more and more outlandish, culminating in an explosion of the impossibly bizarre. A member of the company was ‘planted’ in the audience to eventually protest against the outrageous induction and this led to a slow-motion fight, then ‘a freak-out’ and finally an explanation. NH learnt a valuable lesson from this as some members of the audience still thought it was ‘real’ even after being told it was a performance (they had invested too much trust to then reject it). The Phantom Captain was invited to repeat this induction three years running. In 1973 they also joined Equity and got their first van. Our Story Exactly (aka What to Do on a Date, 1973) was also performed, at Recreation Ground, Swiss Cottage (Winchester Road, a squat) and on the college circuit. Developed by NH and JC using the most unlikely material they could find – a catholic pamphlet called ‘What To Do on a Date’ – it was one of NH’s favourite pieces. Used the text as a starting off point to enact some ‘diversions’ suggested [by a priest] (to avoid sex). At one point JC played the ukulele. Maze-maker, Greg Bright, came to see this event and went on to join the company. Our Story Exactly was a stage piece. Phantom Captain were never ‘anti-stage’ – just pro other forms of expression too – and to some extent a [scripted] stage piece was a welcome relief as they could work with greater precision.
00:53:29 Cowboys and Prison, still in 1973. NH had got interested in cowboy conventions when the Howff Theatre Café invited them back. Howdy, Stranger! was a light-hearted Christmas Show – a cowboy convention but a British one, rather suburban – with guest artists including the newly formed Lumiere and Son [David Gale, Hilary Westlake] Despite a bit of a falling out when CO, IJ and DG left, NH invited them back for this piece, their segment directed by Hilary Westlake. [Howdy,Stranger was one of two shows performed by PhanCap at Brixton prison] – the first was a revue called A Pain In the Nick. [Also in 1973] Time Out printed a shortened version of The Phantom Captain’s Modern Drama Exam – one of their ‘write-offs’, a spoof publication with nonsensical questions.
00:58:26 1974 – De Lantaren’s Festival of Horror. A couple of minor [one-off] pieces were A Disastrous Evening With the Phantom Captain (using a workshop format, it became a self-fulfilling prophesy) and Spoiled Papers, devised for an election event at the Roundhouse. The company received an Arts Council grant in the ‘performance art’ category. For a ‘Festival of Horror’ at De Lantaren Arts Centre, Rotterdam, they presented [various events] as The Curse of The Phantom Captain. The theme ran counter to their [usual] ethos. Their methods would mean they‘d have to horrify the audience, so in a way it liberated them and enabled them to be really nasty for a change! [Their main contribution was The Black Museum] an environmental event, with exhibits and attendants. However the best thing they did there was an ‘infiltration’ in the bar – characters they called ‘bar-flies’ mingling with the public, being very creepy, e.g. Julia McLean with bandages unravelling from her arm in a desperate state, looking for a lost photograph. The organisers were pleased with it – but the audience of bar customers were rightly disturbed.
01:08:40 Also in 1974. The Schridonian Trade Delegation grew partly out of NH’s wife being of Serb–Croatian origin, and also the need to develop pieces that would work at open-air festivals. It was an ‘infiltration’ piece – 6-7 peasant-like [tourists from an apparently repressive regime] spoke a made-up type of Eastern European lingo, but no English. Wandering through an event in a bewildered state, the women carried the heavy bags in the rear. They would picnic and dance ‘traditional’ dances – creating a spectacle for the public – and pose for photographs for interminable lengths of time. A workshop in Holland was cancelled so [NH and two former Dutch workshop players] embarked on An Unsponsored Walk – a slow-motion walk through the city (Amsterdam). The Independent Theatre Council was set up and NH was on its first committee – he was excited by this coming together of various touring groups and acting in their interests as [the sector] was otherwise ‘totally unregulated’ and vulnerable to exploitation. Peter Godfrey joined PC. The Church Has a Role to Play was an infiltration event – three (Christian) clerics (played by PG, JC and NH in dog-collars) were shown around a Jewish Social Centre, asking those they encountered tactless questions – they got more outlandish, ending by dancing on tables. These are all examples of small one-off pieces. However, a more significant project was Secretians, or The Secret Service (1974). They decided to turn themselves into a spiritual organisation – a new religion (along the lines of the Church of Scientology) – and enact a ceremony with a lot of nautical imagery. Although [apparently] bogus, they aimed to make the ‘religion’ valid and to use humour [as an integral element in its belief system]. It was a major project over a long period [touring nationally and internationally 1974-77] and was filmed. What emerged was a sort of Anglicised version of Zen Buddhism. They wore immaculate naval officer uniforms and performed slow motion ‘tar-chi’ movements. A whole repertoire of events – infiltrations, street theatre, pamphleteering and stage pieces – were developed around this. Alongside street theatre and infiltrations, Phantom Captain continued to do stage pieces (it was very useful for funding purposes to get [positive] reviews) such as the 1980 Abracadabra Honeymoon (Bush Theatre) that was ‘beautifully designed’. Many of the Phantom Captain costumes were purchased from the west-end military outfitters, Laurence Corner [Drummond St].
Audio Track 3 ends: 01:31:54
Audio Track 4
Date: Friday 26.04.2013
00:00:00 PC events of 1975. Hand-Held Follies – a video project, instigated by Peter Godfrey in response to the Serpentine Gallery’s desire to bring together various artists working with this new technology. The players were in nautical costume (perhaps unwisely). The best expression of their involvement was an installation: The Armchair Critic – JC playing a beer-swigging man [what might now be called ‘a couch potato’] with two televisions tuned in to different channels: it [worked as a contrast to] the progressive work that surrounded them in the gallery. For this event they had created a ‘video’ branch of the company (EYE-EYE TV) for which PG continued to run some video workshops. Also in 1975, in The Investigation Bureau (see above, Recording 2) one of the elements included PG deploying ‘video surveillance’ of the audience, plus video interrogation. This event was filmed. Further discussion of The Front (see above, Recording 3, Our Story Exactly (see above, Recording 3) and Greg Bright’s [involvement] – a professional maze-maker who came to see their shows and eventually joined the company, being one of the navigators in Secretians (see above, Audio Track 3). He stayed about a year, bringing to the work ‘a very fierce and uncompromising commitment’. He was in a rock group called ‘Silent Sister’ and had both a book launch and a gig for the band at the ICA. PC performed an infiltration at the gigs – not the only time the PC have done this kind of infiltration. Wide Open Day was a large-cast event (25 players) at Battersea Town Hall Arts Centre. Graham Stone, a friend of JC’s, was involved. As the Arts Centre was in the Old Town Hall, they took over [the entire building] for a bogus Open Day, showing what was going on in all departments. NH was a be-suited guide conducting audience groups around the building, NH discusses the difficulty of managing audience participation events – ‘you have to take what the audience throw at you’. Heckling by ‘Salakta Balloon Band’ at this event was an extreme example, [apparently] motivated by their Trotskyite beliefs (see above, Audio Track 3). With regards to Phantom Captain’s political stance, NH discusses the manifesto ‘The Politics of the Phantom Captain’, presented in Utrecht,1975 (see above, Audio Track 3) – PC were attempting to ‘radicalise consciousness’ – in line to some extent with the ‘anti-psychiatry movement’. Jenny Topper (future artistic director of the Hampstead Theatre Club) had become Artistic Director of De Lantaren Arts Centre, Rotterdam, and commissioned The Phantom Captain to contribute to Thema: Vrouw (Theme: Women) – despite PC being mainly a male company. It was suggested that they work with a youth theatre group (Eksit Theatre) connected to De Lantaren. PG and NH decided to create an ‘environ-mental’, The Charm School, in part an exhibition of images of women, especially in unacceptable representations. There was also a ‘beauty treatment’ room. They intended blurring the lines between men and women – NH cross-dressed (with a beard) and PG went as half-male and half-women: they functioned as guides, aiming to be as charming as possible. At one point NH was spat on by a woman who took exception to his [persona].
00:37:20 1976 and the various interests of company members. Neil Hornick’s Diary of Discipline was a series of encounter-style workshops he ran at Harrow College of Art. The Humalien Society at De Lantaren was science fiction-inspired – a ritual happening on the theme of time involving cyclical actions, with the players uncharacteristically dressed as ordinarily as possible! It also played at Melkweg, Amsterdam. (British theatre companies were very popular in Holland at this time). [For a return engagement at] Tilburg Arts Centre, PC suggested they be officially adopted by the town – and vice versa – hence a Mutual Adoption Ceremony. There were various events and an official ceremony in the Town Hall, speeches and scrolls, and NH wrote a special song that was performed by the PC’s little choir. The company was reallocated from ‘performance art’ to ‘drama’ and were awarded a £13,000 grant. This enabled them to employ an administrator, Liz Weston (LW – she later ran Covent Garden Community venue) and to move into their own base. PG, NH and JC had met regularly at each other’s homes and recorded improvisations on audiotape, some of which would be written up by one of the company. All three were performers and writers, NH also directed and administered (until LW took this over) and was very interested in collage and slide shows. JC had experience in radio and designed the sound for some shows. As time went on he also directed, when NH was away. PG had experience with community and youth theatre work as well as early video. Having separate premises (see Audio, Track 2) made NH’s domestic arrangements more manageable – he now had two children. Soon they moved premises again to Fleet Road and they were pleased to have a shop window where they placed displays of unusual items. LW had an office on the ground floor, upstairs they rehearsed and stored stuff. Later LW revealed that she had felt quite isolated from the other activities. Cindy (CO) was never a ‘partner’ in Phantom Captain but she was very involved in a number of shows. Other regular women players included Jude Allen (JA, [‘discovered’ by NH and JC in a production of their Golden Oldie script]) and Louise Jones (LJ). For NH it felt right to go into partnership with men rather than women, as he wanted to keep the inevitable intimacy with a partner at arm’s length. LJ brought a very important spiritual element to the work, not overbearing but compatible. The same goes for Julie MacLean and JA – they were very versatile.
01:05:53 The National Theatre and Rational Theatre, 1976. For the York Festival, where they worked around the York Mystery Plays, they created Procession, with each [player representing] a different kind of procession – a beauty pageant, Jesus Christ, etc. The head teacher at a Hampstead school was interested in street theatre and engaged the company. They brought in a zany career guidance team, moving from classroom to classroom. JC was promoting a weird pyramid-selling scheme, NH in nautical costume was proposing a career in the Navy, etc. Michael Kustow, an associate director at the newly opened National Theatre in 1976, was supportive of Phantom Captain’s work and invited them to stage an event in the NT lobby. The Phantom Captain Dramatic Society had three elements: Tales from Samuel French (selected readings from actual [synopses of] corny plays from various Samuel French catalogues), an exhibition and some stereotypical west end theatricals. In that year they also became an official [charity] (for grant purposes) – ‘Unexpected Developments Ltd’ – with its own Board [of Directors]. Under this umbrella was: Peter Godfrey’s own company, Rational Theatre; Henge Films (IJ made the film The Phantom Captain Appears); their publication arm (Premature Publications); and a [short-lived] costume hire business (Parrot Fashions), set up by Terry Moore. NH needed some time out, after 7-8 very busy years [and took a sabbatical] to write a book about their work [– uncompleted]. PG was now developing independent ideas with Rational Theatre. There was [therefore] some [uncertainty] on the part of the Arts Council about Phantom Captain, and some [artistic] conflict between PG and NH when he returned to the company, so Rational Theatre left. Phantom Captain became one of the 46 companies that had their grant wiped out by the Arts Council in December 1980.
01:20:26 Loaded Questions (1976). Loaded Questions (a.k.a Open to Question) was one of their most widely-known and toured stage works. It was highly theatrical, suited to proscenium production – a show comprised entirely of questions. It was presented in the form of a poetry or musical recital. Scripts were placed on music stands, to give the impression of something formal, also achieved through the music. Slides were projected in the background. Could an absorbing piece of theatre be created within such constraints? It was a direct audience-address piece; in the programme they asked the audience not to give verbal responses to the questions. First performed at the Bush Theatre, London, then toured nationally and internationally, including The Performing Garage, New York. It had varied responses, from people who were elevated by it to those who found it tiresome. There was a small cast (two men and one woman), each clad in evening dress and wearing indecipherable medallions (formal costume and uniforms were one way Phantom Captain played around with ideas of authority). In Loaded Questions a thematic grouping of questions were punctuated with a gong. The questions often carried double meanings, hence the title. There were also song sequences of questions. The mood and the pace varied. It ended with a ‘heavy’ sequence on death. The slides were partly collages made by NH for the piece and partly found images. The script was researched by the company, contributing as many questions as they could. NH was the script coordinator and assembled them into sequences. This world of questions, a realm of uncertainty, NH called ‘questimodo’. The piece resonated with audiences and stayed in the repertoire for about five years (on and off). They performed it internationally and it was generally well-received– but an attempt to break into America completely bombed – it was [probably] perceived as being too intellectual.
01:35:55 The Narcissus Complex (1977), found material, Write-Offs and street theatre. The Narcissus Complex was a full-length stage piece devised by PG and the company for De Lantaren’s unusual festival theme of ‘Tragic Love’. It was billed as ‘The Phantom Captain Mutual Masturbation Society Presents The Narcissus Complex’ – the PC often created such associated ‘institutions’. It was a kind of revue, including a self-worshipper (NH) and two survivors of masturbation, in wheelchairs (JC and LW) who read from old [sex] manuals with warnings of masturbation. Although it was well received in Holland, it never had a real life beyond the Festival of Tragic Love. ‘Found materials’ and collage were techniques drawn from surrealism and explored by The Phantom Captain in their shop front. [New Yorker theatre critic] John Lahr, a friend of NH’s, had been intrigued by the bizarre displays before he learned of NH’s involvement. NH and JC were both writers and their projects often generated [printed] texts they called ‘Write-Offs’ – ‘religious’ pamphlets were on sale, for instance, accompanying the Secretians show. Other one-off nonsense leaflets were issued at various events e.g. ‘Don’t Leave Litter!’ and ‘Legalise Indian Music!’. For some of their shows they issued fake programmes, with fake cast lists and settings. Somnambulartists (1977) was a street theatre piece – the premise involved performers (in night attire -nightcaps, lighted candles, etc) who were supposedly asleep but having dreams or nightmares of moving through the environment in ultra-slow motion, responding to the ‘real’ as if in a nightmare, in wonderment or alienation. Artitypes featured a variety of ‘street artists’ – pavement artist, landscape artist, portrait painter, etc. At a later date, Brian Popay [a friend of NH] (see above, Audio Track 3) created a company called ‘Fine Artistes’ which included similar routines. Further discussion of Shridonian Trade Delegation from 1974 (see above, Audio Track 3). The company saw the genre of street theatre as an important part of their output. Still Lives drew upon observations of everyday ‘found’ actions in the street such as a person emptying a shoe; in repeating the action a number of times by several performers it became interesting. At the Vienna Street Theatre Festival, working with drama students, PC presented Theatre Street, a very interesting one-off that was actually about ‘street theatre’.
02:02:21 The Tao of Physics and the danger of losing a record of past work. The Changeness Congress (1977) was [a stage piece] about particle physics – the dress rehearsal at Oval House was a shambles but, polished up, it ran at King’s Head Theatre, [though] audiences were baffled by it. There was a slide show introduction to the physics, then it moved to ‘experiments’. The first half was entirely in black and white, ending with the discovery of the colour red, ripped out of a cushion. Act Two was a rerun of Act One as a variation of it in ‘Technicolor’ and as a musical. Matter and anti-matter were embodied in the two halves of the show and it also drew on a book The Tao of Physics. They got a very positive review in New Scientist magazine. Chahine Yavroyan [of The People Show] was one of the two designers working on the show. NH makes some comparisons between The Phantom Captain and a contemporary ‘immersive’ theatre company, You Me Bum Bum Train. There follows a discussion about the way that experimental theatre of the 1970s is in danger of being lost and forgotten. Further discussion of The Waiter Service aka The Serviette Union (see Audio, Track 3) their longest-standing piece, last performed 2006. It was a very adaptable piece, could even be performed in the street and it could be themed. Was worked into [a wide range of] events, such as weddings. [Thelma Holt of] The Roundhouse employed them for about six months to perform it in the restaurant (with a relay of performers). Discussion of funding, the importance of their Arts Council grant and the relative remuneration for work at home and abroad where they were paid substantially more than usual for a commission at Holland’s De Efteling Theme Park (see Audio, Track 2).
02:24:17 Surrealism and Tortured Spirits. The Sheerealist Platform was inspired by the ‘Dada and Surrealism Revisited’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery (1977). NH suggested to Michael Kustow a one-off lecture at the [nearby] National Theatre, where it was presented as a Platform Event. There had been a preview at the Drill Hall. NH was in nautical costume seated in an armchair and JC ran the slide show in the background. The lecture was based on the premise that surrealism was dead, whilst itself embodying the surrealist spirit. Later JC performed it in Bonn. While NH was on a sabbatical from the company, the others developed a revue, Blackouts. LW directed and PG masterminded it. The idea of the sabbatical was to take a break, but also to write a book about the Phantom Captain’s work: this was started but not finished. Luke Dixon comes in as administrator. Further discussion of Tortured Spirits (at De Efteling, see Audio, Track 2). The Minister of Economic Affairs was to open the event and knowing him to be unaccompanied they arranged to have a Dutch woman [Lino Hellings] in suitably skeletal [make-up] attaching herself to his arm as his consort. There was an exorcism of the site by an English ‘expert’ (NH), monks creating screechy music , and a ‘woman in white [JA] perched’ on a parapet. A carousel went around backwards and included two undertakers and a coffin. It was an unusual piece for the company with regard to its [relatively large] scale.
02:35:33 The Elder Brothers (1978) was a processional street theatre piece, performed at a festival in Hamburg and at Covent Garden, using ‘old man’ masks to create an array of archetypes. Further discussion of The Chapel of Rest for the ‘Festival of Death’ (see Audio Track 3) – this was a rare piece for The Phantom Captain in so far as it was truly ‘performance art’ in the best sense of the phrase. In 1979 The Prisoner of Zen and Marbles were conceived by PG whilst NH was on sabbatical and were distinct from The Phantom Captain’s work. When NH returned, PG broke away from The Phantom Captain with his Rational Theatre company. There were difficulties with regards to the allocation of the grant and also the division of resources such as props and costumes, and bad feeling between PG and NH. The Phantom Captain performed a one–off street theatre piece about animal rights – ‘Save the Whale’. It was seen by musician/composer Simon Jeffes (SJ) of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO). Later the two happened to be fellow-independent contributors to [a record] album of one-minute pieces called Miniatures [conceived by ex-Mott the Hoople musician Morgan Fisher]. At the album launch party SJ, NH and JC met and SJ invited Phantom Captain to go on a European tour with PCO – creating ancillary events to the concerts (called Penguin Café Society). As NH [and JC] loved their music, it was to be a highlight of his career. With the PCO they appeared on German television.
02:53:50 Abracadabra Honeymoon (1979) and post-grant-aided activity. After they lost their Arts Council grant (1980) PC carried on despite an announcement in one paper that they were no more. They reverted to a two-man team (NH & JC), worked from home, and created one or two new pieces. Prior to this, they performed Abracadabra Honeymoon at the Bush Theatre, December 1979 / 1980) They had been doing quite well and for this show they had proper designers, and garnered good reviews. The show was developed by NH and JC from a title that they dreamt up and liked – it became a celebration of romantic, erotic love, set conceptually in a Honeymoon Hotel in Japan. It was getting packed houses because of its nudity and erotic scenes – but it was at that time that they learnt they had lost their Arts Council grant. Our Boys’ Town was the last stage show of substance that NH and JC created together – it was a scripted lunchtime show – a proscenium piece at the King’s Head Theatre, but wasn’t well received – perhaps because NH and JC were too young in the parts of two old men. It drew on and combined [Thornton Wilder’s] Our Town with the Mickey Rooney film Boy’s Town. [Interview ends here, without covering remaining years of PC’s existence].
Audio Track 4 ends 03:02:22