The Cosmic Trigger Experience

Camp and Furnace
21st, 22nd, 23rd November 2014

Reviewed by Tom Calderbank
Photographs by Mark Loudon

Warning! This review contains fnords. If you don’t want to see the fnords, don’t read any further. Forget the future. Enjoy the past.

“Is all that we see or seem, just a dream within a dream?”
Edgar Allan Poe and The Art of Noise

And so it came to pass that on that crazy beautiful weekend in late November in Liverpool - in the year we finally immanentised that frigging Eschaton - the Cosmic Trigger was well and truly pulled. To be strictly accurate, the preview show on the Friday night was actually the WORLD PREMIERE - don’t forget that, history books. But for a number of reasons, the Cosmic was only cocked and the trigger squeezed. It was the next day that it was pulled and pulled and pulled again.

The echoes of the shots will be heard for years…

The venue was Camp and Furnace, and being honest, I didn’t think this was the best place to stage it. On the rainy Friday evening, the venue was distinctly chilly, felt decidedly uncosmic, and the sound of the food slam party next door was intrusive. Who’d have thought people slamming food could be so noisy? Surely the new Everyman was the place to be, in honour of their former legendary artistic director (and one of the stars of the show tonight) Ken Campbell.

No doubt there’ll be valid reasons why it was a no-go, but it still felt like a lost opportunity. That said, the venue came into its own on the Saturday and Sunday, with its different spaces accommodating the variety of visions and activities the full Experience provided.

It’s been a labour of love by all concerned this last year, since Ken’s daughter Daisy announced her intention to stage it. In finest Cambellonian tradition, it’s been largely powered by imagination, generosity and sheer grit. We excited crowd of Seekers arrived (from all over everywhere, it seemed– I met someone who’d flown in from Frankfurt for the event, and another guy from Liverpool, New York) with a real sense of anticipation. Here were veterans (cast and audience) of the original Illuminatus!, The Warp (and its Revisitation), War With the Newts, Pool of Life, Jamais Vu and many more. With an up-for-it crowd like this, it was half the battle won. It felt very much like this was to be the next installment in an illustrious canon.

The stage looked like this: a drummer at his kit in one corner; a cloth-draped portal in the shape of Wilson’s repeated image of Nuit’s arched body; and projections of gates with inset skulls, swinging eerily open. A projected sign above told us these are ‘GATES TO ETERNITY’. The projections throughout by Scott McPherson were brilliantly conceptualised and realised. The sets have been described as ‘immersive and animated’, and I can only agree. The projections effectively set the different scenes, moving the action on right on the money, and looked as if they were impeccably researched (for example, I was convinced that the Playboy offices in the 60’s looked like Scott depicted them).

Act one opens with an atmospheric recording of the Mighty Mr Alan Moore as the face and voice of FUCKUP, the supercomputer from the 23rd Century. I said previously that his involvement with the project makes the work transcendent, and so it proves to be.

He tells us in his inimitable way the story of Ishtar, the Babylonian Goddess of fertility, love, war and sex. She begins her decent to the underworld from behind the audience. She walks slowly towards the stage, symbolically disrobing as she goes. She has to be incrementally naked before she can go through the 7 Gates of Eternity. Finally, at the 7th gate, she gives up her thousand petaled crown, representing her godhood….and is rudely taken naked through the veil by hooded figures. A wonderful, silent performance from Beccy Strong (who, incidentally, was staying at our house and has gifted me the title for my autobiography: ‘Ishtar Did My Dishes’).

As if to prove death is no barrier to a successful career in showbusiness, Robert Anton Wilson stands before us. Based on his performance tonight, Oliver Senton just staked a claim on being one of the finest actors of his generation with his performance of the great Pope Bob. Completely believable, heroic, fragile, funny, and inspiring. This is to be the tale of his entry into Chapel Perilous, a crossroads of epic proportions. The cast emerge from the Chapel wearing masks of aliens, death and all manner of strange creatures.

To survive the tender mercies of the Chapel, one needs to be armed with the sword of truth, the cup of sympathy, and the wand of intuition…

Then the projections work their magic, walls slide together, pictures and books fly into place, and suddenly we’re in the Playboy offices in Chicago in 1968. A silhouette of a bunny goes past a window, like a spirit from folklore.

Enter Robert Shea, played by the excellent Tom Baker (who coincidentally, at Sunday’s ‘Find The Others’ conferestival, in yet another of those ever-increasing synchronicities surrounding this whole production, will play the role of Ken Campbell playing The Doctor in my own play ‘The Lost Doctor’ – truly, you CAN make it up!)
After the 2 Bobs meet for the first time, the world will never be the same again…

Suddenly, (23 minutes in?) a declared ‘projector malfunction’ hails the arrival of our sponsor for this whole Caper, the Goddess of Chaos and Confusion, Eris. Played with relish by the brilliant Claudia Boulton, she exudes devil-may-care. Recruiting volunteers from the audience, she tells her own story of Zeus, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Before we know it, there’s a huge golden apple bouncing around our heads in true pantomime style. A feeling of ‘anything can happen-ness’ abounds.

This feeling is enforced in the next scene with the arrival at the Wilson family home of Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley, “like a Marx Brothers version of Zen”. They explain the founding of Discordianism as “the world’s first true religion” They all get stoned (“If organized religion is the opium of the masses, disorganised religion is the marijuana of the lunatic fringe”). They initiate Bob as a Pope, wearing the chicken of stupidity on his head. Luckily, seriousness isn’t a vice Bob possesses. Together, they launch Operation Mindfuck – liberation through paranoia. It’s time to throw a Molotov into everybody’s Reality Tunnel with a spot of what Bob coins ‘guerilla ontology’. To a soundtrack of ‘Kick Out the Jams’ by MC5, images of the fire and blood which accompanied the Democratic convention of ‘68 flash around the set. The lads think they’ve “unleashed some weird shit”. To compound this, the two Bobs begin work on the great Discordian novel, ‘Illuminatus!’, bringing flatfoot detectives Barney and Saul to life as they investigate the bombing of the Confrontation magazine offices and open a can of worms - reeeeaaal funny worms…

Back in the Playboy offices, Wilson is joined by Alan and Jano Watts and William Burroughs. Jano notes something she calls ‘The Net’, a web of synchronicity from Cosmic Coincidence Control Centre. We’re all living in Jung Land. Burroughs discusses the 23 Enigma. Alan has a couple of great lines, including “poverty doth make cowards of us all”, and, speaking about Timothy Leary and the LSD experience, “when one has received a message, one should hang up the phone.” Leary is superbly depicted by Andrew MacBean, as the smiling epitome of the high hippy dream “do I have to fuck every girl in this place?” He gives Bob his first vial of liquid LSD, and once he’s properly established his ‘set and setting’, Bob sets to work on his bold experiment of “total transformation of the mind and all that resembles it”. Albert Hoffman rides by, looking for the very bike he’s riding on. George Dorn, a character in his novel, emerges from a box and takes a walk with Bob. Cushions, beanbags, plantpots, all change into people. Aleister Crowley emerges singing and playing an accordian. On the verge of madness, looking genuinely tripped out, Bob is calmed by his daughter Luna (beautifully and maturely brought to life by Daisy’s daughter Dixie McDevitt). Her line from Gurdjieff “How can you expect fairness and decency on a planet of sleeping people?” brings act one, profoundly, to a close.

Act 2 opens with a naked cherub with a semi-on, outside the Gates of Eternity. Back at the Wilson household, pictures on the wall depict legendary figures: Ken Campbell, Tim Leary, William Burroughs, Aleister Crowley, and Bob himself. His wife Arlen (played impeccably by Kate Alderton, who brought an incredible depth to the role), receives a phone call telling her husband has been reported dead. “I have become Shrodinger’s Cat” says Bob. This moment of levity is abruptly broken by the news that Bob Shea has actually died….

Not for the first time in this show, I began to cry…

(It’s not true unless it makes you laugh; you don’t understand unless it makes you cry).

Wilson thinks back to their work on ‘Illuminatus!’ And here’s where we get to the ‘play within a play’, the legendary staging of ‘Illuminatus!’ in the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun on Matthew Street, Liverpool, 1976. (Now the site of Oirish theme pub ‘Flanagan’s Discordian Apple’, incidentally).

Yet more ace Imagineering here, whereby the innovative set is assembled around the character Hagbard Celine with 4 angled, painted boards which make up the rebel yellow submarine Leif Erikson. This, as with other brilliant sets and props, is based on the superb work Bill Drummond did on the original production (before he famously went out for a tube of Araldite and never returned:

Andrew MacBean plays Hagbard larger than life, the way he should be played, like the sets: heroic.

(Aside: the whole company are out-and-out stone-cold brilliant, playing multiple roles with heart and soul. Hats off to them all! As one of the ‘Keep Calm’-style notices says: ‘Shut up you cunts actors on stage’).

Alan Moore’s FUCKUP emerges again, face distorted, and it was at this exact point that I actually felt reality slip by me as though greased by goosefat. Then Howard the Dolphin turned up….

Reality on the rocks….

The remarkable Josh Darcy, playing Ken Campbell, strides out from the crowd. It’s hard to pick out any one actor in this incredible ensemble, but Josh is just breathtaking.

(Memo to self: stop gushing. You’re coming across like a proper Luvvie. Don’t blow the ‘Detached Observer’ schtick beloved of critics the world over).

Ken describes his meeting with Peter Halligan, recounting his fascination with Jung’s magnolia-scented dream and his establishment of The Liverpool School of Language, Dream and Pun in Matthew Street and his invitation to stage something brilliant. How he was leaving the bookshop with a pile of books for inspiration, when he saw a copy of ‘Illuminatus!’ at the till.

With it’s Yellow Submarine on the cover.

So he tests it. Jung’s dream of ‘the Pool of Life’ told in ‘Memories, Dreams and Reflections’ is on page 223. He turns to page 223 of ‘Illuminatus!’ and there he finds a reference to Jung.

What are the odds?!?

(Weirdly, brilliantly, appropriately, Liverpool legend Peter O’Halligan was in the crowd today. In a way, this whole event is his fault. It was he who had the dream about Jung’s dream of ‘The Pool of Life’ being at that exact spot. He who invited Ken to stage something brilliant in his newly acquired premises, with the plimsol line painted on the side. He who is an unsung HERO of this parish and the world in general. Just look what his beautiful thoughts have brought us….)

Deep breath, now, everyone….

Ken breaks the 4th wall (again – did he ever NOT do that thing?), speaking to an actor playing set designer Bill Drummond. He asks the immortal question:

“But is it heroic?’

which so helped Bill raise his game. This is grafitti’d across the set.

Then George Dorn fucks a giant golden apple. It’s that kind of show.

Josh transforms from Ken into genteel Southern bastard Gary Kirstein on the turn of a sixpence. Acting at the highest level.

Really, this is all too much. Suddenly, we’re in Napolean Street, New Orleans, in 1959, and balls-deep into the wonderful world of the biggest Conspiracy of them all: The Kennedy Assassination. Kirstein wants to now “How we going to kill that son of a bitch Kennedy?” Poor Kerry Thornley (played brilliantly by the crowd-sourced Lee Ravitz) suggests ways to do just this, including throwing a random strategy into play called, er, Operation Mindfuck. He’s duped into authoring a whole lot of depraved Nazi shit by his sinister paymaster. When in the Marines, Thornley was friends with one Lee Harvey Oswald, and was actually writing a book based on him before he became notorious….

Back to Bob. He’s imitating Crowley by biting his thumb every time he says that duplicitous word: ‘I’. So ‘”the collection of molecules you call your husband” wants to know: did Luna actually levitate?! The family set off to their new house, with a lovely poem by Arlen with its haunting refrain “That Man made/(Man made)”, the actors process around the venue, representing their journey.

The ramshackle house that their dad’s decision to become a full-time author has led them to, is a blow to his other daughter Karuna. At least Luna likes it.

Bob’s birthday brings him a prediction from Karuna of astrological significance. Then the news comes through: Tim Leary has been arrested in Afghanistan. Distraught, Bob has a vision that he will see a picture of Tim, in handcuffs, flashing his famous smile. When he goes out, guess what’s on the front of the main newspaper he finds…? Yep.

It’s that kind of world.

And so, it’s time for some Tantric Sex. Naturally. This scene was veeeeery erotic, with Arlen and Bob getting it on good style. The combination of music, incense, the actors breathing, and trippy melting wallpaper, lent the whole venue a sexual electricity you could just….fuck! Seriously, on another night, with the right kind of audience, this scene could spark an orgy…

Then there’s that bloody Crowley and Eris again, singing and imprinting for all they’re worth. In yet another piece of expert stagecraft, Arlen turns into a Grey Alien.

Then the whole thing starts getting really weird…

Arlen, using the old switcheroo, suddenly appears in the audience asking Bob “Who are you?” No wonder the poor bugger thinks he’s been spiked.

Here, the play begins to break the 4th, 5th and 6th walls by the actors becoming themselves, questioning the script and their roles. They begin interacting with a woman claiming to be Daisy, the author of the play of the book. Who turns out not to be the real Daisy, who has written a play about a play about a book about the writing of a book a play was based on.


Maybe future historians will claim that as the precise moment the Cosmic Trigger got pulled. I dunno. You tell me.

Who are we? An ancient Chinese King? Robert Anton Wilson? Oliver Senton? There’s another reality…

Let’s go back to the sex, shall we?

Kerry Thornley (or is it George Dorn?), getting it on with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, tells us what the 3 symbols that have been used by adepts for centuries mean: the cube, the triangle, the circle. The cube is low level sex, where the two souls don’t meet; the triangle is where they meet but are still separate; the circle is the tantric ritual, where the two souls become one.

The voice of FUCKUP: “Sirius is very important”. Bob dives out of bed, which is a shame for Arlen, as she was hoping for more of the holy gift of tongues...

July 23rd is the day when it all changes for Bob, when he starts getting visions and hearing voices from Sirius, giving him a degree of ESP. This is effectively conveyed by Arlen baking in the kitchen, wearing an alien mask and speaking in a squeaky alien voice. This is the time of Tim Leary’s ‘STARSEED’ experiments, attempting to take human consciousness to the stars. He confides in Luna that he’s now experiencing telepathy, knowing when the phone will ring, knowing when there’s someone at the door, and more. The postman delivers a copy of Robert Temple’s book on Sirius (NB: Temple is at the conferestival on Sunday, natch). Luna tells him she’s “stopped the wheel of Karma”, following a punch to the face. All the badness is with the boys who hit her. Bob tells her he’s decided to believe the voice from Sirius, but not to tell her mother. The doorbell goes. He doesn’t know who it is, but it’s probably a Gemini.

Kerry Thornley arrives, agitated at being investigated and having to testify to Jim Garrison over the Kennedy assassination. He knows in his bones that he’s the victim of a the world’s most sinister conspiracy….

Then we’re back in the Liverpool production of ‘Illuminatus!’, with Daisy playing Mavis. “Illumination is on the other side of absolute terror” she tells us. Ken bursts in with the good news that the play has been chosen by Peter Eyre to open the new Cottesloe theatre. High with the news, she and Ken get it on backstage. So Daisy is playing her Mum, Prue, playing Mavis, conceiving Daisy. Just wow.

The innovative tarot reader table prop, with the table upturned by 90 degrees so we see it as though from up above, and the actor in a chair on their back, is brilliant. The 2 Bobs finish writing ‘Illuminatus!’ Wilson announces the second interval and issues the audience with a challenge: go for the next 20 minutes without saying the word ‘I’.

This collection of molecules called your reviewer lasted less than 1 minute…

Act 3 opens with Eris, holding one of Jimmy Cauty’s smiley face riot shields.

If Father Christmas happens to be reading this, I’ve….erm….been really good all year, and if you could see your way to stuffing one of these rebel beauties in my stocking, I’d be the happiest little sandboy on the block….

Then, bursting through a golden apple, comes the remarkable Selena Godden. I’ve heard her perform on Ian McMillan’s ‘The Verb’ on Radio 3, but to see her live was like eating lightning on toast. Her performance of ‘I Want Love’ was full-phat, and I can only urge you to see this incredible poet and force of nature for yourselves. Her roly-polys at the rave on the Sunday were worth the admission price alone.
Let love rule, Selena!

Back at the Wilson family home, Santa Cruz, 1994, Bob gets a vision which he knows will send him deep into the heart of Chapel Perilous. Poor guy hasn’t got a clue what that dark church really is – but he will….

In a Maximum Security prison, Bob visits Tim, who is still radiating positivity, for a man unlikely to see freedom again. He’s working on his biography ‘Confessions of a Hope Fiend’. He feels as if he’s Crowley reincarnated, here to continue the work of the Great Beast, preparing humanity for Cosmic Consciousness. Telepathic waves for use in outer space. He discusses his theory of the 8 circuits of the brain (check it out, it’s a useful model), which Bob marries with his theories of loser and winner scripts. The other inmates and visitors burst into funny and enlightening song about metaprogramming “Don’t panic, don’t panic - you’re a Karma mechanic”. Tim has a number of terrific lines, including: “the only sensible way to discuss politics is on all fours”.

Back at home, Bob starts planning his evening eldritch entertainment, a Crowley full moon party filled with witches, wizards and other assorted far outs. Bob tells Luna how much he loves her; she goes off to work, and I start sobbing.

Clouds roll over the full moon above the stage…

The party’s interrupted by the arrival of Kerry Thornley. By this time, he is full-blown paranoid, with probably every right to be. He feels he was set up when he was in the Marines, brainwashed, Operation Mindfuck being a lot more sinister than a mere Discordian jape. He’s convinced that he and Oswald were being readied as patsies for the Kennedy assassination, to throw investigators off the trail of the real villains. He leaves with a warning to Bob to watch himself. Then a cop arrives with the worst news possible…

It’s here, in the morgue, that the play reveals itself to be so much more than we thought. The murder of Luna by a drink-addled, embittered Sioux Indian descendant, almost breaks the family. Oliver and Kate excel themselves here. Their parental grief at the loss of their child of light is palpable and heartbreaking. Bob’s Immortalist friends convince him to turn to cryogenics to give Luna even a trillion-to-one shot at future survival. Thus, Luna Wilson made history by being the first person to have her brain cryogenically frozen. Despite Bob’s best efforts at stopping the wheel of Karma, and turning bad energy into good, he hurtles into the real dark heart of Chapel Perilous…

Back in Liverpool, 1976, Ken Campbell delightedly informs the cast of ‘Illuminatus!’ that National Theatre director Richard Eyre has asked them to open their new space at Cottesloe. He just has to get the 2 Bobs over for the first performance. Characteristically excited, he calls Arlen. His face, like the fortune teller’s cards, falls….

Bob attempts to shave, and crumples. He feels like a total, abject failure. “The whole world is a lesson in the futility of human hope.” He’s really on the ropes, here. A stunned Arlen tells him about Ken’s history changing call. She tells him it’s a SIGN, that all Bob’s training and experimenting has led him to this. A simple choice between fear and love. As if more proof were needed, she absent-mindedly put her hands on a note written by Tim to Luna which reads:

‘Beloved satellite. I’ll be coming to join you in outer space.’

And so it was that the 2 Bobs found themselves in the National Theatre, having inspired arguably the most subversive text in history to be performed under the patronage of HM The Queen. A real laugh-out-loud moment comes when an actor emerges, naked and covered in goat’s blood, to tell them “Your book changed my life!” I was really glad that Ken’s old Latin teacher (and consultant on the coming Black Mass scene) George Harvey Webb was introduced into the narrative, as he’s key. It was him, and not the National, who helped fund Wilson’s visit. Without him, the whole story would be different. Nice also to see Chris Langham referenced on stage. He was a major part of ‘Illuminatus!’s’ success, and should be given full credit. At the 23 minute curtain call, Wilson is persuaded to participate in the Black Mass scene. Crowley intones, “God is dead, and we are all absolutely free! Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. This scene is very atmospheric and more than a bit scary. This is theatre on the edge.

Alan Moore/FUCKUP/Satan is manifest, and the 3-eyed man is king. This is Robert Anton Wilson’s moment of EPIPHANY.

He speculates: How much of this was programmed by The Great Beast years before RAW was born?

Barearse in Chapel Perilous, he chooses to take “a new imprint”. A “network of love”, whereby he chooses to reject all hate and dogma, and love ALL beings, INCLUDING the man who murdered his daughter.

Luna comes back to talk about the “spiritual evolution of mankind”.
As if by Magick.

We’re in the White Room. Amongst the Masks of the Illuminati.

This is the Ideaspace where all the great magicians live. Outside time, benign, ready to offer advice to the aspiring Seeker.

I noted Dee, Blake, Crowley, David Rappaport, Alan and Steve Moore, John Joyce, Ken Campbell and RAW himself. Those who paid attention to this play, please tell me: who else was in that room..?

Finally, Bob takes to the stage. He gives us a summary of his journey, in metaphysical hot water. He does not believe in ANYTHING. Belief is the death of intelligence. As Kerry said: “Conviction causes convicts”. Agnosticism is both modest and becoming.

Do we really know where a joke or caper comes from? Or what they really mean?

What do you do when your enemies come at you with negativity?

Tim appears from on high to tell us the answer: “use all the positive energy you have to beam right back at them.”

The final secret of the Illuminati.


Who is the Master who makes the grass green…?

The final scene, where Bob is on his zimmerframe, Arlen-less, reflecting on his long, strange trip, is truly beautiful. Picking up first one cheque for $23, then another, then another, he realises that the people whose lives he has changed (including a sizeable chunk of the audience here tonight) are surrounding him with a network of love. When the many envelopes are thrown from the front of the stage, the unscripted shouts of ‘WE LOVE YOU, BOB!’ are heartfelt.

Cosmic Trigger has a heart of gold, the real secret of alchemy, and the final secret of the Illuminati. The whole thing was like a psychic barn raising, where the actions and talents of a community added up to something much, much more than its constituent parts. What an incredibly touching tribute to all our best beloveds: Luna, Bob, Ken, Tim, and all the rest of them in the White Room. Stunning.

I said in my review of their February preview at The Kaz that this play would be brilliant, funny, illuminating, and quite possibly life changing. I’m so happy to report that prediction was correct on all counts, and more. Daisy and her Cosmic Crew pulled it off in grand style. Watch out, London…

Sheer interstellar bliss, this show deserves to tour Planet World for years to come.

The theatrical event of the decade.

Bring on the Future.



Oh, yeah. Them.

I don’t do nutshells (as you can probably tell), but if I did, I would say simply that we found them. They tickled our fancy for a while, and then they fucked off.

But they each came with a force so strong it cannot be denied, and left in their wake an abiding feeling of nothing but love. They stank of the stuff. From Nina Conti, effortlessly peeling back layers of reality like onion-skins, to all the testifiers in Chapel Perilous, to the curators and artists in Galleria Discordia (especially the amazing Melinda Gebbie for not only the 2 beautiful and original works of Eris she did for the show, but also for signing my copy of ‘Lost Girls’) to the performers in the Avant Garden, to the attendees at the Papal Ball, the Maybe Logic Dome and the Caravans, and to all the unsung heroes behind the scenes who made it happen, I can’t say thank you loudly enough.

You came, you saw, you conquered!

Finally, as if she hadn’t stolen enough of the show already, the impromptu wedding of Daisy and Greg put the top hat on it all. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. To hand her the Eternal Bouquet was a privilege.

And so, as we said goodbye to this merry band of Discordians, they leave a legacy of….what?

Well, the lost series of Doctor Who, starring Ken Campbell as The Doctor, for a start. Coming soon from the Universe Next Door. Who knows what else was birthed here…? Answers on a postcard, please.

A special prayer to no Gods in particular, to punk icon Jamie Reid, who was so looking forward to this event, but then, like a divvy, had a bloody heart attack. If its any consolation, your Rowan’s band Shamanarchy were bloody great.

Get well soon, mate.

These flowers never die.

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