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Cosmic Trigger review at Cockpit Theatre, London – ‘poised between genius and gibberish’

Scene from Cosmic Trigger at the Cockpit Theatre, London. Photo: Simon Annand Scene from Cosmic Trigger at the Cockpit Theatre, London. Photo: Simon Annand

Poised perilously between genius and gibberish, Cosmic Trigger is, at heart, a biography of iconic counterculture author Robert Anton Wilson. A sprawling work of multi-layered metafiction, it also tells the story of Wilson’s satirical masterpiece, Illuminatus, and its adaptation into a nine-hour play cycle by director Ken Campbell in 1976.

Packed with scenes of ecstatic sex, drug induced hallucinations, and convoluted conspiracy theories, the production has a chaotic, carnival atmosphere which is only heightened by the numerous ad-libs which pierce the dialogue.

Writer and director Daisy Campbell juggles it all with impressive confidence, however, with a bold in-the-round staging which sees characters emerging from all sides, calling down from above, or suddenly revealing themselves as plants in the audience.

Portraying Wilson, a charismatic Oliver Senton radiates calm curiosity – at least when he isn’t tripping on acid and talking to cushions. Kate Alderton is mischievous and challenging as his wife Arlen, but becomes downright heartrending after a tragedy strikes in the third act.

Graphic novelist Alan Moore appears via pre-recorded video in several small but significant roles, opening the show with a deliciously dulcet reading of the legend of the goddess Ishtar.

Brighton-based design collective Amoeba provides animated projections which cover all four walls, sometimes establishing locations, sometimes showing psychedelic spirals or kaleidoscopic swirls of occult symbolism.

In an early aside, Wilson wryly describes the play as “cryptic and ambiguous”. That is an understatement. It’s imaginative, often hilarious, and brilliantly bonkers.

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Unclassifiable but tremendously ambitious biography of cult author Robert Wilson