William Haggar’s phantom ride

William Haggar

William Haggar, from http://www.williamhaggar.co.uk

Talking, as we have been, about lost films, here’s an interesting piece from the South Wales Echo (we cast our investigative net widely here at the Bioscope) on a theatre show devised by performance group Good Cop Bad Cop:

Haggar remembered in ‘rough and ready’ show

WILLIAM Haggar was one of the first pioneers of cinema in a silent age where actors ‘spoke’ volumes with just a simple frown or smile.

A travelling entertainer from Essex, he settled in Wales and transformed live entertainment into the cultural industries of the early 20th Century.

Now his work is being resurrected by two-man company Good Cop Bad Cop, which has been commissioned by Chapter for three nights of experimental theatre.

In what has been described as a rough-and-ready production, John Rowley and Richard Morgan, who set up Good Cop Bad Cop in 1995, take to the stage for their performance of Phantom Ride.

Based on a series of lost silent footage, Phantom Ride aims to rejuvenate memories from a selected 32 of Haggar’s films in a creative leap of faith by the theatre group.

The two actors, who met when they worked with Welsh theatre company Brith Gof, have brought on board newcomer Louise Ritchie for the project.

The show will be performed purely through stand-up acting on a stage which has been stripped bare of scenery, props and bright lighting.

Each will give a brief synopsis of Haggar’s work and recount memories of those switched-on enough to have handed down thoughts about his films so that future generations could get an insight into a disappearing film era.

It will then be up to audiences to visualise the rest, albeit prompted by storytelling monologues and a background soundtrack.

John Rowley, co-artistic director of Good Cop Bad Cop, says they are still making changes to the production which is how the pair usually work best.

He said: “We are still working on it.

“Although the show is on Wednesday we’ll piece it together right up until Tuesday night.

“It’s rough and ready in a way. It’s not like going into the theatre seeing bright lights, scenery and costumes. It’s based on a series of lost films which do not exist any more.

“In the silent movie era after the people watched the film they didn’t care what happened to the footage which was combustible, so they went to powder.

“A lot of work has been done to restore them in different parts of the world but a lot have been lost. I think only eight exist at the moment and they are in fragments.”

During the 70-minute show the audience is expected to play its part by using imagination and imagery.

John added: “What we are interested in is the live raw experience of an audience member, and the relationship between the audience and the performer which is often kind of negative in traditional theatre.

“We will be using the same space as the audience as it’s not a built-up stage.

“It could be some of the audience end up standing next to the actor listening to them as if it was a personal conversation.

“That part of the audience is then turned into part of the performance.”

I like the idea of getting the audience to contribute to the imaginative recreation of a lost film. That sort of engagement with the audience is very much in the spirit of Haggar, who toured the fairgrounds with his films and knew that it was those who came to see the show that really made the films what they were. William Haggar is the great pioneer of Welsh cinema, responsible for such lively works as A Desperate Poaching Affray (1903) and The Life of Charles Peace (1905), and the subject of Peter Yorke’s recent biography. Yorke has also produced a website about Haggar and his book, at www.williamhaggar.co.uk.

Good Cop Bad Cop: Phantom Ride can be seen at Chapter, in Cardiff, Wednesday, January 23, to Friday, January 25, at 8pm. Further information from the Chapter website.