by Spencer Hazel
Review by Philip Fisher
British Theatre Guide
Riverside Studios (2001)
This production is a collaboration between the British, 2021 Performance, and the memorably-named Canadian company, Theatre Gargantua. It is hard to know what to expect from these two experimental performance companies but the result of their initial work together, Phantom Limb, is an interesting mix of almost every art form. It is driven by the imagination of Spencer Hazel who was a founder (sic) member of Frantic Assembly.
In about an hour, they relate in a very elliptical way the life of a doomed writer, John Mackie. As well as major contributions from the members of the company who swap parts so that all play the hero at some point, there are also text offerings from two Canadian folky rockers, Michael Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies) and Jane Siberry to add to the pedigree.
The performance combines elements of straight drama, dance, a capella singing and film to build up a kind of impressionist painting of the life of this strange author of a book called Phantom Limb. The images created by the actors’ bodies, enhanced by Spencer Hazel’s choreography and wonderful lighting, illuminate the text. Hazel has a fantastic eye and creates beautiful effects, especially a waterfall of photographs.
The physical images are only part of the pleasure as the text is very lyrical at times and slowly reveals more about the life and desires of an Everyman. There is also the odd very funny line such as “grinning from ear to eternity”.
The main recurring image is that of something that has been lost or damaged but continues. We hear of digits and limbs damaged and amputated and of the early loss of John Mackie’s life . This matters little as he continues to live as a shining star in the lives of those who grew up with him.
The whole builds up lots of alternative views and lives for John Mackie as a song or experimental novel might. By the end, it is unlikely that the viewer will have a full understanding of the plot but they will have enjoyed great performances from the ensemble and a chance to see something oddly moving that is not available anywhere else.