Redefining Reality: Cosmic Trigger Play Review
WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – MAY 2017
“Reality is what you can get away with.” Like many of Robert Anton Wilson’s elucidations, the idea of shaping your own reality has grown increasingly potent as the world becomes evermore entangled in strife and discord. The Brooklyn-born, California-based writer was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century and thankfully, Daisy Eris Campbell and a tight-knit collective have been working tirelessly to ensure his legacy is not forgotten.
“Reality” has taken some strange and harrowing turns since Daisy first staged her heroic adaptation of RAW’s Cosmic Trigger in Liverpool in 2014. However, at the same time as this, her “pulling of the cosmic trigger” has opened up a whole network of artists and subversives who are seemingly working towards creating the counterculture we so desperately need.
After “finding the others”, as she set out to do, it became apparent that this burgeoning counterculture was not like those that went before. Various people who’ve been involved in different countercultural manifestations dating back to the psychedelic sixties have commented on how much more inclusive and open-minded this new network is in comparison: where art comes before ego and the collective transcends the individual.
And now, having returned at the perfect moment to “find the other others”, Daisy and the female-driven theatre company, Love and Will Productions presented a slicker, subtler, wholly immersive adaptation of The Cosmic Trigger at London’s Cockpit Theatre, which transmited RAW’s essential message crystal clear. Staged in the round, the play was a feast for the senses, with the lines between crowd and performance constantly blurred.
The production felt a lot more professional than the seminal first show in Liverpool and there was a big sense that the play found its home, with the venue fully engaged in what they’re doing. However, seeing as the play evokes the Greek Goddess Of Chaos, Eris, they didn’t allowed the professionalism or funding (fun-dead) to take away from the magick and mayhem and there was of course plenty of references to the number 23, which is an in-joke you perhaps might not want to get acquainted with…
Picking up where the last play left off, this run of 23 shows at The Cockpit introduced new elements and dimensions, more clearly defined scenes and a much stronger musical accompaniment, programmed by Robert Burnham and with contributions from Greg Wilson’s Super Weird Substance and ambient duo Space Blaster: the hooky lyrics helping Robert Anton Wilson’s ideas resonate in the audience’s minds for longer. With music such a central part now, ska-punk outfit A0S3 and DJ Greg Wilson drew things to a fitting close on the final night.
Often described as “the cultural elephant in the room” RAW’s teachings synthesized the best aspects of eastern spirituality, western occultism, metaphysics and cutting edge psychology, sociology and science, to create a blueprint for the next stage of human evolution, no better exemplified than in The Cosmic Trigger.
Written as a form of catharsis for the madness unleashed by the epic Illuminatus! Trilogy “mindfuck” he co-authored alongside fellow Playboy editor Robert Shea, The Cosmic Trigger seemed fitting when Daisy began to feel the pressure of following in her father’s footsteps.
In 1976, when he was the same age as Daisy at the time she staged her first Cosmic Trigger production, Ken Campbell embarked on his most epic caper and staged a mammoth eleven and a half hour production of Illuminatus! in a converted warehouse on Mathew Street known as The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. Daisy’s mother, Prunella Gee played Eris and, legend has it that Daisy was conceived backstage at that very play, which is why she finds herself with a middle name referencing the Greek Goddess Of Chaos and Discord.
Illuminatus! masterfully weaved a narrative out of the wildest and most farfetched conspiracy theories that had become prevalent in the late sixties as the two writers grew increasingly involved in the Discordian joke/religion that venerates Eris and spreads disinformation. Creating a modern mythology that sought to undermine people’s safely held views with a practise RAW dubbed “guerrilla ontology”, the book logically explains the most illogical of ideas in the hope that it will induce a psychological state known as “the Chapel Perilous”.
Once you enter the Chapel Perilous you’ll either leave paranoid or agnostic. The idea is that you’re supposed to reach the point where you can’t believe anything at all any more, at which stage the illusion of “objective reality” dissolves with the realisation that everyone views the world through their own “reality tunnel”.
Dedicated to Ken Campbell and the Science Fiction Theatre Of Liverpool, The Cosmic Trigger allowed Wilson to recount his experiences in the Chapel Perilous and the web of synchronicity – or meaningful coincidences – he became entangled in on the back of writing that epic trilogy. At the core of his teachings, RAW argues against beliefs, instead highlighting the virtues in saying “maybe”, which leaves you open to all possibilities.
What he’s putting forward has been described by countercultural author John Higgs as “metamodernism”: using philosophy, ideology, spirituality, psychology and mysticism, as tools rather than systems, opening up more freedom of choice and allowing people to dismiss ideas as soon as they stop becoming relevant to their lives.
Daisy’s play offered up plenty of new ideas to use as tools whilst Robert Anton Wilson explored the teachings of mystics, writers and intellectuals like Aleister Crowley, Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff, William S. Burroughs, Alan Watts and close friend and ally Timothy Leary.
The play grabs you from the very first moment – full frontal nudity and esoteric rituals will do that – and it doesn’t relent over the three hour-long acts. Although the ideas discussed are lofty and important, a sharp and surreal sense of humour permeates the production, whilst you’d need a heart of stone to not be moved by the final act.
Like in 2014, Oliver Senton has captured the essence of Robert Anton Wilson in his performance, again joined by Kate Alderton’s poignant portrayal of his wife, Arlen as well as children Karuna, Graham and Luna, played by Carrie Marx, Leigh Kelly and Dixie McDevitt (Daisy’s daughter who coincidentally was born exactly 23 years to the day since Luna died).
Claudia Boulton returns to her disruptive and volatile role as Eris, whilst Tom Baker’s inspired and unsettling accordion-wielding Crowley is back, as is Lee Ravitz’s manic and unrestrained Kerry Thornley. The voice of “the greatest living Englishman” Alan Moore is transmitted into the performance as the computer FUCKUP, as is the voice of Bill Drummond of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (formerly The KLF) – the other half of the duo, Jimmy Cauty was there in the audience on the final night.
Josh Darcy and newcomer Jethro Skinner have both nailed the characters of Ken Campbell and Timothy Leary respectively. Having worked extensively with Campbell, Darcy perfectly captures his temperament and mannerisms, whilst Skinner has managed to mirror the same dangerous and mischievous glint in his eyes and beaming smile on his face as the character he plays. Larry Sidorczuk, who was in the original Illuminatus! play, makes his return, this time playing psychedelic chemist, Albert Hoffman.
The actors double and sometimes triple up on characters, allowing them to shift seamlessly between The Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus! narratives. The role of the Goddess Ishtar, who performs the naked ritual at the start of the play and that of William Burroughs shifts with each performance, keeping everyone on their toes and stopping professionalism from squeezing the magick out. Adding a beautiful touch to the final night, Robert Temple emerged out of the crowd to thank RAW for his contributions to popular thought – Temple’s ‘The Sirius Mystery’ coined the term ‘Cosmic Trigger’ and inspired many of the book’s ideas.
The overall message of The Cosmic Trigger is one of optimism; Robert Anton Wilson famously argued, “An optimistic mind-set finds dozens of possible solutions for every problem that the pessimist regards as incurable.” It would be easy to look around the world today and decry everything that’s shit about it, but it’s doubtful that will lead us out of our current predicament. It’s essential to stay optimistic – as John Higgs noted in his insightful talk at the play’s opening, “pessimism is for lightweights”.
Robert Anton Wilson was always massively intuitive about the direction we’re heading, an early advocate of things like Universal Basic Income and the idea of a post-scarcity society, which are currently starting to enter mainstream thought. The Cosmic Trigger play has returned at a moment where humanity finds itself at a crucial crossroads, putting forward a vision we can work towards, whilst stirring the underground creative currents that have lay dormant for too long. With people like Alan Moore, Adam Curtis, John Higgs, David Bramwell, Salena Godden, Nina Conti, Cat Vincent and many more taking part in the play’s special events, there’s a real sense of a vanguard forming amidst this circle of creative minds.
The Cosmic Trigger is the play of our times, putting forward bold and brave ideas to shake our culture out of its slumber. It’s far more than just a play and proved to be essential viewing for those looking to add more meaning to their lives and improve their “reality”. More than anything, it created a new, living mythology, adding some much-needed immaterial to the material world.
Turn on, tune in, find the others!
Photography by Simon Annand