Neil Hornick video Topics List

Dates: 15.03.2013 and 26.04.2013
Location: Golders Green
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Xi-mali Kadeena and Sara Scarlotto
Topics List: David Cleall

Video timings
Video 1 – 01:41:38
Video 2 – 01:30:01
Video 3 – 00:38:59
Video 4 – 01:48:57
Video 5 –  01:13:44

Video 1
Length 01:41:38
Date: 15.03.13

00:00:00         Overview. Looking back, Neil Hornick (NH) is surprised how prolific and productive the late 60s and 70s years had been – street theatre, performance, infiltrations, ‘environ-mentals’, tape/slide. Some of the work was better than others! They were stimulated by the work done by other companies, and 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.

00:04:58         Personal background. Parents had been born in the East End from Polish / Jewish immigrant family (1880s). Upwardly mobile, NH was brought up in Hendon – a suburban middle class background, father a lithographic artist. Neil went to Christ College Grammar School at Finchley. As a schoolboy he was a prankster, partly influenced by an American book he had as a 13 year old, The Compleat Practical Joker [H. Allen Smith] – he was interested in the way the jokes interfered with everyday, normal life. Later – in sixth form the pranks got more elaborate such as staging simple surrealist events on tube trains, the action was designed to be ‘an unfathomable event’ – stunts that couldn’t be rational explained. NH and a friend also wrote a fake ‘serious’ play to be read out in English – a play about Jewish heritage Blood and Darkness included many built in absurdities –‘blurring the boundaries between theatre and reality’ – in some ways these pranks and absurdist theatre pieces anticipates the work NH was to go on to do as The Phantom Captain. His parents kept up Jewish traditions but were not very religious – going to the synagogue only on religious festivals. NH went to Hebrew classes and was bar mitzvahed, 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, 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. Older brother did live the model Jewish life. Pranks at Hebrew class included cruel practical jokes which NH now regrets.

00:30:51         University and PGCE. Went to University College London, London to study psychology (1958-61) planning to be a child psychologist, being inspired by a  radio programme on mental health. NH 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 e.g. Six Characters in Search of an Author. NH was a great theatregoer: Royal Court, Waiting for Godot, Joan Littlewood, absurdist drama – and this all had an influence on him. From schooldays he had been involved school dramatics and also amateur dramatics. At university NH started to write revues. After graduating, NH went on to Goldsmiths 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, who were more in line with his thinking. NH got expelled from the halls of residence for singing two authentic but bawdy folk songs at a student concert in the presence of the Principal’s family, he refused to apologise and used it as an opportunity to leave the course and went to Paris (about 1961).

00:50:20         Busking, folk music and drama at Bristol. In Paris, NH and a musician friend, David [Cronin],  became street musicians (English and American folk music), supplemented with teaching English. Then busking around Europe (61-63) – this planted the seed 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 and the trio became The Sidewalkers. In 1963 a group of five of them went on an overland trip to India in a Landover. Returning to London in 1964, NH had an urge to write (short stories) and performed with DC in folk-clubs in London (Bunjies [off Charing Cross Road] and The Hole in the Ground, Swiss Cottage). Researched folk music at Cecil Sharp House and also some part-time paid psychology research work. Creatively hit a dead-end with folk singing and decided to study drama,  a Post-Grad Directing course 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 around a personal project on Dada and Surrealism (Dada Didactics) – he had a strong interest in improvisation techniques including especially those of Viola Spolin. This whole project and related research was a big influence on him. The final piece was partly an environmental event using the stage but also various annexes. NH created some of the text, anthologised surrealist texts, free association (verbally and physically) came out of the improvisation workshops and it used abstract sounds and audience interaction.

01:13:41         Marowitz, Berman, Haynes and The Switch.  On leaving Bristol, NH contacted Charles Marovitz (CM – he knew him from the folk scene and at Bristol had staged a one act play of his). CM became NH’s ‘conduit into alternative theatre’ – Marowitz 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 improvisation workshop for professional actors (group included  Thelma Holt, Cindy Oswin – running the workshops was unpaid work and he took a job (for one year) as Drama lecturer at Hatfield Polytechnic and moved to Golders Green. Two of NH’s short absurdist plays, drawing from the improvisation workshops, were taken up by Ed Berman for the Ambiance Lunchtime Theatre through Cindy (CO), he got involved running some workshops for Wherehouse La Mama theatre company (Beth Porter) that became The Hilton Keen Blow Your Chances Top of the Heap Golden Personality Show of the Week. NH also knew Jim Haynes (JH), who was setting up the Arts Lab, because JH and Charles Marowitz were buddies. JH invited NH was to use ex-warehouse space that was to be the Drury Lane Arts Lab (before it was open to the public) – for the improvisation troupe he had set up to called [The Troupe, later known as] The Switch.

01:29:00         The Gang Bang Show and a Schneemann Happening.  Out of ‘The Switch’ workshops came an invitation to create 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 Mike Kustow] against the Vietnam War. The Show took the form of a ‘troop’s entertainment’ performed for ‘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 many collaborators including Peter Buckman and Eric Idle (under a pseudonym). Cast included Jean Michaelson (from La MaMa) Adrian Harman (flatmate and musician) and Brenda Dixon (an American and who became NH’s girlfriend prior to returning to America with The Open Theater). 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 [Round House] and NH, BD and  Mike Kustow were some of the ‘performers’. A wagon was hauled on stage and out tipped a load of garbage, and screwed up papers from the congress, the performers semi-naked with more screwed up papers attached emerged from the rubbish and enacting scenarios relating to the ideas of the congress.

Video 1 ends 01:41:38

Video 2
Length 01:30:01

00:00:00         Henry, Shamey and Peter Oliver. David Triesman [later the politician, Lord Triesman] was another person involved in one of these Roundhouse happenings. Tony Woodward, from NH’s improvisation group, The Switch, disappeared mysteriously and this inspired NH’s  short play, Henry, performed at Ambiance – an absurdist piece that came out of improvisation about how a group cope with the sudden disappearance of a friend – bewilderment leads to  speculation, to paranoia, then suspicion’ before they carry on as if nothing had happened, the piece ending in an absurdist fashion with a further disappearance. Shamey Maxwell also had some involvement and he would later [in 1973] book The Phantom Captain at the Howff, the venue in Chalk Farm despite Peter Oliver [of Oval House] strongly advised him not to.

00:09:40         The Phantom Captain. The Phantom Captain grew out of various experimental activities that had involved NH in the late 60s. A number of members of NH’s improve troupe were in Wherehouse La MaMa and when they were looking to get a touring company together, NH joined them. This didn’t work out, there was a bit of a power struggle between Beth Porter (BP)and NH, it purported to be a collective but was actually dominated by its founder (BP), after a year NH felt the need to breakaway and create something long lasting that he would have artistic control of. He invited Jean Michaelson (from the workshops), David Webster (also from the workshops and JM’s boyfriend) and an American, Rick Davis (who had been with La MaMa) to join his group. After much discussion the company came into being that NH called ‘The Phantom Captain’ (est.1970). It started small scale and grew, first Arts Council grant about 1972-3. The name was expressive of the ethos of the company, derived from a Buckminster Fuller idea of human ‘machines’ as being under the guidance of phantom captains. It also had connotations of a populist superhero. NH got married that year and the Phantom Captain initially met in his Golders Green flat. About 1973 they got premises – a squat, near Swiss Cottage. Phantom Captain was now established on the alternative theatre scene. Peter Godfrey had joined the company and after a year or so they moved to Fleet Road, that was a real base for the company, rehearsal space, storage of props / costume, office space and even had a shop-front – as it was nominally a second hand book shop. Liz [Weston] was their first administrator, later this role was taken by Luke Dixon. From this location [in 1979] Rob La Frenais started Performance magazine.

00:24:04         Early shows. The Phantom Captain Meets the Phantom Captain was performed at Questors Theatre was a one off event for an experimental theatre festival, The audience was divided into two halves facing each other, alternatively lit with stage lights, each providing a spectacle for the other. There was no ‘content, but company members were planted in among the audience and moving things on a bit with comments. Eventually it became really chaotic – it was truly experimental theatre as they didn’t know the outcome. This show may have been what Peter Oliver (of Oval House) was referring to when he criticised the company of ‘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, those ‘experimental intrusions into reality’. Whereas the work with The Switch was stage based, by the time of Phantom Captain it became more concerned with street theatre or creating special environments that audiences ‘could be threaded through’. They were exploring many different modes of working not only street theatre but 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. A theme could be ‘crime’, Phantom Captain did an indoor piece The Investigation Bureau [1975] in the main venue, a ’kind of cop shop’ with a labyrinth of rooms that the audience moved through, there would also be spin offs such as street theatre on this theme. Also in Holland, Phantom Captain were commissioned to create the opening ceremony for a new children’s theme park ‘De Efteling’ they devised [Tortured SpiritsA Simulated Haunted Castle – there was a big budget and they recruited a British team but also a Dutch one. [Another popular street theatre event utilised] railway stations as provided venues for ‘celebrity send-offs’ – members of the public were treated with VIP send-offs, or welcomed with speeches – [Phantom Captain] tried to give people a good time, spread a bit of happiness!’

00:36:26         Heckling and politics. NH didn’t usually have difficulty managing heckling etc from audiences but an unusually difficult situation occurred at Brixton Town Hall [actually Battersea Town Hall Arts Centre, see 1975, Video 3 below]. An ‘infiltration piece’ was undermined by a political theatre group, Salakta Balloon Band, for ideological reasons through physically interference and ‘deflating’ their assumed characters to the extent that they 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 – a talk in Utrecht (1975) ‘The Politics of the Phantom Captain’ – was an attempt by NH to explain their personal politics – ‘radical liberation’ and ‘what happens between people’ this contrasted with the agit-prop of Salakta Balloon Band.

00:44:00         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 – he 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 ‘wacky surreal mind’. By the mid 80s the ‘partnership’ became a bit stale and they went separate ways. Utopia or Oblivion 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 collaborators in Phantom Captain (Jean Michaelson and David Webster) left to follow Guru Maharajah, Divine Light Mission.

00:53:32         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 a guard / guide to the exhibitions, his interest in collage led to his later interest in creating slide shows. This took various forms but the break-through slide show, done with Joel was Kingdom Come – The Art and Craft of Pornography – it was a satirical show, NH and NH were unsavoury types giving a lecture on ’their’ output, it was reviewed in The Times and a bit of a breakthrough. The collage exhibition The Real Thing  was provocative with regards to its sexual explicitness. NH took risks and was more radical then,  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], they combined a funeral parlour with a terminal ward, beds were laid out, and the company (3 or 4 performers) were wearing the clothes of funeral directors also playing sick patients lying on a bed –  NH giving an improvised monologue on his death bed, opening his eyes, to encounter a visitor staring at him in tears, which he found very moving. It made him reflect on the affect performance could have on audiences.

01:01:29         Fun Art Bus and A Bite Out. Also in 1972 NH wrote for – The Bus Hijack Mystery for Ed Berman’s Inter-Action’s Fun Art Bus following on from some Ambiance Theatre pieces. The Bus Hijack was directed by Naftali Yavin for TOC (The Other Company). NH knew NY, through his 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 his organisation’. The Bus Hijack was ‘a Goonish piece’ that was performed on the bus – Henry Goodman was in it and Patrick Barlow stage manager. In 1973 A Bite Out came out of improvisations on the theme of food stuffs. There was a stage piece but they also wanted to do ‘infiltrations’ –  this became The  Waiter Service’– mini happenings performed at the tables. The piece achieved more of a performance art quality than previous work. David Gale ‘brought his art school sensibility to the piece’ – it started at Howff Theatre prior to being toured as part of an Arts Council package (Dalta Stopover) [A Bite Out] ‘.. was a very beautiful, strange and bizarre piece’ – with effective use of music (Adagio for Strings). IJ 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 or no dialogue, there was a great stress on the evolving drama of the visuals, and there was no audience participation – just a bizarre ritual. When A Bite Out was performed at Howff Theatre Café alongside The Phantom Captain’s Waiter Service where NH,JC and IJ interacted with the audience at tables and this item became a central part of their repertoire until the end.

01:12:44         Bath, The Front and What to Do On a Date, 1973. The Phantom Captain Emporium at Bath’s Another Festival ‘The Natural Theatre of Bath’ (Ralph Oswick and Brian Popay)  offered them the chance of performing in a shop front (and some of the interior of the shop) – window display became part of their repertoire for a while after that. They were filmed at Bath [Performance Art, David Bruton, Arts Council,1975] along with Landscapes and Living Spaces (Roland Miller and Shirley Cameron) [and John Bull Puncture Repair Kit]. 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 – Jonathan Lamede and NH also met Sue Timothy from the Arts Council. The Front: An Introduction to Life At University for In-coming Freshers  (Brunel University – students union?) – a mock fresher’s induction programme, a satire on HE education – they created ‘a gallery of grotesques’ – it became more and more outlandish until it developed into an explosion of the impossibly bizarre. A member of the company was ‘planted’ in the audience eventually resisted 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 to then reject it). Phantom Captain were invited to repeat this induction three years running. In 1973 they also joined Equity got their first van. Our Story Exactly was also performed at the recreation ground, Swiss Cottage (Winchester Road, a squat) and on the college circuit. Developed by NH and JC using the most unlikely material that they could find – a catholic pamphlet What To Do on a Date – it was one of NH favourite pieces. Uses the text as a starting off point to enact some of the diversions suggested (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.  What To Do on a Date was a stage piece. Phantom Captain were never ‘anti-stage’ – just pro all other forms of expression and to some extent a stage piece was a welcome relief – they could work with precision.

Video 2 ends 01:30:00

Video 3
Length 00:38:59

00:00:00        Cowboys and Prison, still in 1973 Howdy, Stranger! NH had got interested in cowboy conventions and the Howff Theatre Café invited them back. It was a Christmas Show and light-hearted – a cowboy convention but a British one, rather suburban – it had guest artists including the newly formed Lumiere and Son [Hilary Westlake]  – although there had been a bit of a falling out when CO, IJ and DG left NH invited them back for this piece where their section was directed by Hilary Westlake. [Howdy, Stranger was performed at Brixton prison] and a ‘review’ also for Brixton prison – A Pain In the Nick. Time Out printed a shortened version of Phantom Captain’s Modern Drama Exam – one of their ‘write-offs’, a spoof publication with nonsensical questions.

00:05:09         1974 – The Horror Festival. A couple of minor pieces A Disastrous Evening With the Phantom Captain (used workshops – became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Spoiled Papers was part of an election event at the Roundhouse. An Arts Council grant was under the ‘performance art’ sector. Then the ‘Festival of Horror’ themed at De Lantaren Arts Centre, Rotterdam (Giving People The Creeps ). The theme ran counter to their ethos – to try to cheer people up. Their methods would mean they would have to horrify the audience, so in a way it liberated them and enabled them to be really nasty! It was 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, the bar customers were rightly disturbed.

00:15:41         Also in 1974. Shrewdonians (sp?) Trade Delegation grew out of NH being married to a woman of Serb–Croatian origin and also the need to develop piece that would work at open-air festivals. It was an ‘infiltration’ piece – 6-7 performers dressed as peasants, spoke a made-up type of Eastern European, but no English, from an apparently repressive regime. Filing 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 they embarked on An Unsponsored Walk – slow motion walk through the city (Rotterdam?). The Independent Theatre Council was set up and NH was on the first committee – he was excited by this potential coming together of the various touring groups and acting in their interests as it was otherwise ‘totally unregulated’ and vulnerable to exploitation. Peter Godfrey joins Phantom Captain. The Church Has a Role to Play was an infiltration event – three (Christian) clerics (played by PG, JC and NH in dog-collars) were being shown around a Jewish Social Centre, asking tactless questions to those they encountered – 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 They decided to turn themselves in to a spiritual organisation – a new religion and enact a ceremony  (along the lines of Scientology Church) with a lot of nautical imagery. Although bogus, they wanted to make the religion valid and to use humour. It was a major project over a long time [touring nationally and internationally 1974-77] and was filmed. What emerged was a sort of Anglicised version of Zen Buddism. They wore immaculate naval officer uniforms and performed slow motion ‘tar-chi’ movements. A whole repertoire of events, infiltrations, street theatre, pamphlets 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 reviews) such as the 1980 Abracadabra Honeymoon (Bush Theatre) that was ‘beautifully designed’. Many of the Phantom Captain costumes were purchased from the military outfitters in the west-end, Laurence Corner.

Video 3 ends: 00:38:59

Video 4
Length 01:48:57
Date: Friday 26.04.2013

00:00:00        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. They were in nautical costume (perhaps unwisely), the best aspect of their involvement was an installation: The Armchair Critic –JC playing a beer swigging [what might now be called ‘a couch potato’] with two televisions tuned in to different channels, it went against the progressive work that surrounded them in the gallery. For this event they had created a ‘video’ branch of the company ( IEYE-IEYE TV) PG continued running some video workshops. Also in 1975, in The Investigation Bureau (see above Video 2) one of the aspects included PG using ‘video surveillance’ of the audience, and video interrogation. This event was filmed. Further discussion of The Front (see above Video 3) and Our Story Exactly (see above Video 2) and Greg Bright a professional maze-maker – came to see our shows and eventually joining the company being one of the navigators in Secretians (see above Video 3) staying about a year and bringing to the work ‘a very fierce and uncompromising commitment’. He was involved in a rock group ‘Silent Sister’ and had a book launch at ICA and later a gig for the band at the ICA and Phantom Captain did an infiltration at the gig – not the only time the PC have done this kind of infiltration. Wide Open Day was a large cast event (25 people) at Battersea Town Hall Arts Centre. Graham Stone, a friend of JC’s, was also involved. As the Arts Centre was in the old town hall, they took over all spaces as a bogus open day of the Town Hall, showing what was going on in all departments. NH was a be-suited guide conducting groups of audience 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 Battersea Arts Centre event was an extreme example motivated by their Trotskyite beliefs (see above Video 2). With regards to Phantom Captain’s political stance NH discusess the manifesto The Politics of the Phantom Captain presented in Utrecht ,1975 (see above Video 2) – 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) was Artistic Director of the De Lantaren Arts Centre, Rotterdam and commissioned The Phantom Captain to contribute to Thema Vrouwen (theme women) – despite PC being mainly a male company. It was suggested that they should work with a youth theatre (Exit Theatre Group) connected to De Lantaren. PG and NH decided to create an ‘environ-mental’ The Charm School partially an exhibition of images of  women especially in unacceptable representations and also there were ‘treatment’ room – such as beauty treatments, 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 being as charming as they could. NH was spat on by a woman who took exception to the concept.

00:37:34         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 Event was  science fiction inspired, also for De Lantaren – ritual happening on the theme of time involving cyclical actions whilst uncharacteristically being dressed as normal as possible! It also played at Melkweg, Amsterdam. (British theatre companies were very popular in Holland at this time). At Tilburg Arts Centre, in 1976, Phantom Captain suggested that they be officially adopted by the town (and vice versa) – Mutual Adoption Ceremony. There were various events and an official ceremony in the Town Hall, speeches, scrolls and PC wrote a special song that was performed by their little choir, in their nautical costumes. At their request to the Arts Council they were reallocated from ‘performance art’ to drama and were awarded a £13,000 grant, this enabled them to employ an administrator (LW) and to move into their own base. PG, NH and JC met regularly at their homes and recorded on audio tape improvisations, 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 very interested in collages 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. Now having 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 put an ever changing display 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. Indy (CO) was never a ‘partner’ in Phantom Captain but she was very involved in a number of shows. Other women included Jude Allen (Golden Oldie) and Louise Jones. For NH it felt right to go into partnership with fellow 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 over-bearing but compatible. The same goes for Julie MacLane and JA – they were very versatile.

01:04:39         The National Theatre and Rational Theatre, 1976. For the York Festival where they worked around the York Mystery Plays – they created a procession with each section relating to a different form of procession – a beauty pageant, Jesus Christ. A head teacher at Hampstead was interested in street theatre and they brought in Careers Guidance – crazy 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 this was The Phantom Captain Dramatic Society – this had three elements ‘Tales from Samuel French’ (selected readings from actual corny plays from the 1930s), an exhibition and some stereotypical west end theatricals. In that year they also became an official company (for grant purposes) ‘Unexpected Developments Ltd’ – creating a board. Within this umbrella was: PG own company ‘Rational Theatre’; Henge Films (IJ made film The Phantom Captain Appears); their publication arm Premature Publications) and a costume hire business (Parrot Fashions) set up by Terry Moore. NH needed some time out, after 7-8 very busy years. PG was now developing independent ideas with his company, Rational Theatre, there was some insecurity on the part of the Arts Council about Phantom Captain and some 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 granted wiped out by the Arts Council in December 1980.

01:20:24         Loaded Questions. Loaded Questions (aka Open to Question) was one of their most widely known and toured works for theatre. It was highly theatrical, suited to proscenium production – a show comprising 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, and was also achieved through the music. Slides were projected In the background. Could an absorbing piece of theatre 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, such as The Garage, New York. It had varied responses from people who were elevated by it to people who found it tiresome. There was a small cast (2 men and a woman), formal dress but each wearing medallions that were undecipherable – (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 from advertising. 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 was generally well received– but as an attempt to break into America it completely bombed – perceived as being too intellectual, too passive.

01:35:49         1977 Narcissus Complex was a full length stage piece devised by PG for De Lantaren – the unusual festival theme was ‘tragic love’ – billed as ‘The Phantom Captain Mutual Masturbation Society Presents The Narcissus Complex’ – they often created factious ‘institutions’ for The Phantom Captain. It was a kind of revue including a self-worshiper and two survivors of masturbation, in wheelchairs (JC and LW) they read from old manuals with warnings of masturbation (including 19th century ‘found materials’) – 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 Phantom Captain in their shop front. John Lahr, a friend of NHs, had been intrigued by the bizarre displays before he knew Phantom Captain. NH and JC were both or writers and projects often generated written texts – ‘Write-offs’ or ‘Premature Publications’ – pamphlets were created for the Secretians (religious pamphlets).  Other one-off nonsense leaflets were issued at various events e.g. ‘Don’t Leave Litter!’ and ‘Legalise Indian Music!’. Some of their shows had ‘fake’ programmes, with fake cast lists – and fake settings. Nauticulture  – description of movements involved – ‘Tar Chi’, ‘First Church of The Phantom Captain’.

Video 4 ends 01:48:57

Video 5
Length 01:13:44

00:00:00         Somnabulart  was a street theatre piece – the premise was the 6-7 performers (in night attire -nightcaps, candles etc) were asleep on armchairs, then having dreams or nightmares moved through the environment in ultra-slow motion responding to the ‘real’ as if to a nightmare in wonderment or alienation. Artetypes  – here the premise was ‘street artists’ – the pavement artist, the landscape artist, the portrait painter, etc. At a later date, Brian Popay (see above Video 2) created a company ‘Fine Artistes’ and included some of these routines. Further discussion of Shrewdonian Trade Delegation from 1974 (see above Video 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, by repeating the action a number of times by a number of performers it became interesting. At the Vienna Street Theatre Festival – Theatre Street was a very interesting one-off actually about ‘street theatre’ working with drama students.

00:13:30         The Tao of Physics and the danger of losing a record of past work. The Changeness Congress (1977) was about particle physics – the dress rehearsal at Oval House had been a shambles but polished up it ran at King’s Head Theatre, 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. Part two was a rerun of part 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. Shane Javero (sp?) was one of the two designers working on the show. NH makes some comparisons between Phantom Captain and a contemporary ‘immersive’ theatre company, You Me Bum Bum Train. There follows a discussion about the way that experimental theatre from the 70s is in danger of being lost and forgotten. Further discussion of The Waiter Service aka The Serviette Union (see Video 2) their longest standing piece, last performed 2006. It was a very adaptable piece and could even be done in the street and it could be themed. It has been worked into events, such as weddings. 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 the theme park commission in Holland’s De Efteling (see Video 2).

00:35:25         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 platform event in the form of a lecture for the [nearby]  National Theatre. There had been a preview at the Drill Hall. NH was in nautical costume in an armchair and JC ran the slide show in the background – it was based on the premises that surrealism was dead, whilst at the same time being an embodiment of 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 (see Video 2) the Minister of Economic Affairs was to open the event and knowing him to be unaccompanied they arranged to have a Dutch woman of suitably skeletal appearance to attach 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 perched’ on a parapet. A carousel went around backgrounds and included two undertakers and a coffin. It was an unusual piece for them with regards to its scale.

00:47:02         The Elder Brothers was a processional street theatre piece, performed at a festival in Hamburg and at Covent Garden using ‘old man’ masks to create a company of old men archetypes. Further discussion of The Chapel of Rest for the ‘Festival of Death’ – this was a rare piece for The Phantom Captain in so far as it was truly ‘performance art’ in the best sense of the word. In 1979 The Prisoner of Zen and Marbles were conceived of by PG whilst NH was on sabbatical and were distinct from the Phantom Captain work. When NH returned, PG broke away from The Phantom Captain with his Rational Theatre. There were difficulties with regards to the allocation of the grant and also the division of resources such as props, costumes and bad feeling between PG and NH. Phantom Captain did a one–off street theatre piece about animal rights, Animates – ‘save the whale’. It happened to be seen by the musician / composer Simon Jeffes of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO). Later the two happened to have be fellow, independent, contributors to an album of one minute pieces called Miniatures. At the album launch party they met and SJ invited Phantom Captain to go on a European tour with PCO – creating ancillary events to the concerts (Penguin Café Society). As NH loved their music, it became a highlight of his career. Benny Goodman. With the PCO they appeared on German television.

01:05:03         After they lost their Arts Council grant (1980) they 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, created one or two new pieces. Prior to this they performed Abracadabra Honeymoon at Bush Theatre December 1979 / 1980, they had been doing quite well and for this show they had proper designers, 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 that they had lost their Arts Council grant. Our Boy’s 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 but wasn’t well received – perhaps NH and JC were too young in the parts of two old men- it drew on and combined [Thornton Wilder’s] Our Town with Mickey Rooney film Boy’s Town.

Video 5 ends 01:13:44

Back to Neil Hornick