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.

7 responses

  1. As one half of Good Cop Bad Cop I would like to thank you for mentioning our latest performance work,Phantom Ride,based on a number of lost films by the pioneering Wales-based film-maker William Haggar.We thought that you might be interested in this review of the piece which appeared in The Metro Newspaper.We are hoping to present the piece again sometime in the near future.Thanks.John Rowley.

    Theatre Review-Metro Friday 25th Jan.2008
    Phantom Ride
    Good Cop Bad Cop’s latest show,Phantom Ride,elevates the art of the unreliable narrator to a new level-its very unreliability is unreliable.Though billed as “a perfrormed interpretation of some of the lost films of pioneering Wales-based showman and film-maker William Haggar’,two factors serve(presumably intentionally)to subvert this conceit.
    First,performers John Rowley,Richard Huw Morgan and Louise Ritchie don’t attempt to recreate the feel or look of Haggar’s early 20th-century silent films.Instead,they describe the lost works in offhand,insouciant tones,bickering and snapping at each other as they disagree ludicrously on the motivations of stock two-dimensional characters.Second,the original films have been lost,giving us precious little frame of reference to what GCBC are describing.
    However,Phantom Ride isn’t concerned with verity.Its littered with period inaccuracies and final segment Pongo,The Man Monkey culminates in a hilariously unlikely bloodbath.We’re essentially left with an inversion of something we’ve never seen:Phantom Ride is all talking and little acting,and the Haggar originals would have been the opposite.The lack of context or narrative thread makes the hour-long piece a bit gruelling.But the individual vignettes are clever,funny and filled with deadpan charm,the company poking fun at its own creative process far more than at the blameless Mr.Haggar.
    Andrzej Lukowski.

  2. Thanks for posting the review. I like the whole conceit of what you’ve done, and wish I could have seen it. It sort of reminds me of a favourite anecdote, about the Swiss avant garde rock musician Deiter Meier (of the band Yello) who – it is said – once wrote a novel, buried the only copy in existence in a location known only to himself, and then proceeded to write learned papers about it. There’s the work of art itself, and then there’s our attitude to works of art which barely needs them to be there at all. Conceptual early film, I guess.

  3. just to let you know, good cop bad cop will be presenting “Phantom Ride” at “the Foundry”, Aberystwyth University on the 8th and 9th of April. Its intended mainly for the student audience from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television studies, but if anyone else is interested in attending, please contact me at rhmorgan@mac.com for further information.

    Also, I thought I’d add this e-mail, with the writers permission, that we had from an artist and filmmaker. We feel it manages to encapsulate much of what we set out to achieve: –

    Dear Richard

    I wish I’d written this immediately after seeing the show, whilst my experience of it was still fresh in my mind and I’d have had more to say.

    Basically, I just wanted to let you and John know how much I enjoyed the performance. I already knew a bit about Hagger – a result of many a long conversation with Dave Berry – and have seen one or two of his films, but I certainly don’t think you’d have to know anything about him to appreciate and enjoy what you were doing.

    For me, not only did the three of you managed to bring the films and their characters to life, you gave them reason and truth. It’s easy for us to dismiss old silent films as old fashioned, quaint, amateurish, unsophisticated… whatever, but most people presented with films like Sunrise, Metropolis or Battleship Potemkin are surprised and impressed by how modern and exciting they are, with filmmaking skills far superior to those of many of our contemporary cgi obsessed filmmakers. Ok so Hagger may not have been in the league of Murnau, Lang or Eisenstein and his shorts may not be masterpieces but they are amongst many cinematic gems which tell us everything about the culture and environment in which they were made.

    All this may be by the by and nothing to do with your intent, but my experience was of a performance that, whilst thoroughly enjoyable, also successfully deconstructed the films to tell us everything about the people that made them, the time they lived in and the way they were presented. At one point I thought you were going to use one of us, the audience, as extra characters in the film, you didn’t, but I wish you had, maybe just once or twice.

    But really just to say – humorous, imaginative, unpretentious and thought provoking, my kind of art.

    Thank you,

    Rachel Calder

  4. I can’t believe it! I’m going to be in Aberystwyth on the 7th, going back on the 8th, and so will miss your show by hours. Damn.

  5. Congrats, GoodCopBadCop on your show. Wish I could have seen it – or the one at Aberystwyth, but we are away on holiday then. Maybe I’ll catch up with you sometime. So glad you used the info from my book!

  6. I’m research my family history. My father, Thomas William Haggar b. 1927-d1998 and his father Thomas Robert Haggar 1897-1991(?) were born in Essex. Where can I find more family history about Robert Haggar
    thank you
    Janette Haggar

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