Cosmic Trigger at The Cockpit Theatre
Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea are best known for co-writing the 1970s science fiction trilogy Illuminatus!, a tongue-in-cheek look at conspiracy theories, Discordianism and the Illuminati through the lens of magic and farce. The books were adapted for the stage in 1976 by Ken Campbell (a nine-hour rendition approved by the authors), and Wilson went on to write several spin-offs, including a non-fiction, semi-autobiographical trilogy called Cosmic Trigger. To honour and celebrate these works, Daisy Erin Campbell, daughter of director Ken, is bringing to the stage the first book of Wilson’s follow-up series, which recounts his personal perspective during the time of writing Illuminatus!.
Cosmic Trigger is characterised by a propensity for the random and the absurd. A wildly playful mood is immediately established as goddesses, aliens and other creatures intervene, to the great amusement of the audience. The story follows Robert Wilson’s family and work life as he walks on the thin line between reality and metaphysics. Wilson and writer/ journalist Robert Shea conceive the idea of penning a novel during their time at Playboy magazine. Inspired by the readers’ letters, they decide to explore the themes of sex, drugs, conspiracy theories and religious cults, imagining a world where the paranoid are completely right. The writing project kickstarts a rollercoaster of emotions and hallucinations fuelled by the use of drugs and occultism.
The play defines itself as “cryptic and confusing” and it largely stays true to the definition, but the irresistibly infectious fun it transmits elevates it beyond the sometimes scattered plot. Cosmic Trigger has drive and individuality. It finds a way of setting itself apart by disobeying the rules and, following in Wilson’s steps, it deconstructs itself, deliberately loses the way, and then punches again with great force. The (several) themes are perhaps weaved too densely, but the script’s ambition alone deserves praise. The fact that it holds the audience’s attention, and keeps the laughter going, for four hours is a testament that Daisy Campbell has hit upon the right formula.
Led by Oliver Senton as Wilson and Kate Alderton as his wife Arlen, the cast is a true force that powers through the long and intense performance. They take theatre-goers on a journey of wit, humour, songs, outlandish outfits, nudity and a myriad of messages to go away with and ponder. The circular stage of the Cockpit allows a deep immersion that does not exclude the audience from the action. In fact, the presence of spectators is often acknowledged and everyone is made to feel part of the experience. The lack of a solid thread binding the whole play together is felt (and longed for) at times, but the spirit of the production is exemplary in that it acts as a reminder of what theatre should always strive to do: innovate, experiment, and instigate thought and feeling.
Photo: Jonathan Greet
Cosmic Trigger is at the Cockpit Theatre from 4th until 27th May 2017, for further information or to book visit here.