I’ve been intrigued by the recent work of good cop bad cop over the last few years. They often seem to hit the mark in their experimental material, though there is the odd blip. It was great to see an open call out for artists to collaborate on this work as well and I believe there was an option of picking elements from past shows that could be brought back to life in this new version. Phantom looks at the treasure of Wales’ early cinematic history and also their very own theatre work from years gone by. For the work from their own past, they are making attempts to relive live shows which were left with little photographic or cinematic material, once said shows had finished.
It’s never a dull moment going into the space when ever they are performing. Here, Phantom Rides Again! is a mixed bag, at best. The idea of acting out old footage from a Welsh filmmaker now forgotten does make for some wonderful ideas, but can easily over do it, with little else of variety. Storytelling wise, they are doing these reenactments with a great flare, the entire ensemble brimming with a fire and energy, with hammers in hand and smeared make up around the eyes. It’s refreshing to see stories told in this deadpan, witty and open way. The older actors are firm in their delivery, whilst the younger ones have a quick wit. They make magic together.
One question does come to mind: when is art for the sake of art? Are the blinding lighting techniques in the centre of the space just an infuriating assault on the audience, or a swift reminder to engage with each separate story (these retina scorching cues could happen anytime in the stories). Why hammers? Why plasters? Why do they look like new romantic rejects? Why? Just why? These questions and more we have to answer as an audience, as they don’t really make any element of the show accessible in breaking into the work. It just sort of beings.
They incorporate Welsh language material and also BSL into the show. Though with only one performer signing, can everyone see what she signs as she moves around the space (we were sat fully around the piece)? For those who don’t speak Welsh or sign (like myself), we wont know what was being said, though the mystery is elusive. The conjecture and banter within its story creates worlds in our own imaginations, as scene of violence, surreal imagery and old-fashioned come in and out of focus.
Each story demonstrates the skills each reciter has. Are these narratives rooted in any meaning, thematic structure or even a punchline? One familiar (and also very brief) true story was of a girl in Vietnam who had been severely burned by napalm. Though more famous as a photograph, the video of this is a harrowing subject matter, though here had some members laughing due to its shortness and delivery. By the end (with the extensive monkey man story) it all began to wear thin and become a test in endurance, as the lights dimmed and a story going nowhere, just went on.
Each night is different in some way, creating unique work which may be odd and perplexing, but somehow fascinating in its execution.
See before it’s gone forever.
This review has been kindly supported by the Wales Critics Fund. We will miss it dearly.
Phantom Rides Again! is at Chapter Arts Centre till 8th December