The Cosmic Trigger driving Miss Daisy

Ready for Illuminatus!-style magic? Meet Ken Campbell's daughter who's casting some in Liverpool

Written by  Ruth Allan | Follow @ | Thursday, 23 January 2014 23:23

“'IF you want to get something done, go to Liverpool.'

"That's what my dad always said. So now I have.”

Daisy Eris Campbell wants to get something done.

Fresh from the Brighton train, she is holding impromptu court at a table in Mello Mello.  If she gets her way, that "something" may well prove to be the city's most interesting theatrical Happening in recent memory.

'We've got to do something in here,' Daisy says as we wander around the first floor of Flanagan's Apple, the Parlour of the old Liverpool School. 'We need to harness the spirit seeping out of the bricks'

Right now, Daisy is seated a whisper away from the spot where Ken Campbell, her late father, made his final appearance in the city he kept coming back to like an old winter coat.

Several of those clustered around claim they can still faintly hear the last rallying cry of the half-pint-but-larger-than-life film and theatre legend.

There was no stage yet built, on that 2007 Friday night. Mello was a hovel of a place. Campbell had stood on a wooden box, busted microphone in hand. “SHUT THE FUCK UP”, he had roared in order to snare the attention of scores of chattering onlookers.

Silence fell. His rantings on the subject of the multiverse rang out and the magic scattered. It was November 23. Save the date.

Daisy, Pru and KenDaisy, Pru and Ken

Campbell's daughter does not have to be quite so forceful this Monday afternoon to command all eyes and ears. With all the charisma of her father – not to mention the striking features of her mother (the actress Prunella Gee) – that's not a bad hand of DNA cards.

Daisy is in Liverpool on a recce for a performance lecture she is co-hosting next month with science fiction author John Higgs. Higgs is a man who also writes with authority about Timothy Leary but who is recently best known for a critically acclaimed book on the KLF's money-burning adventures. He will deliver a talk titled "I blame Liverpool."  He isn't the first.

There will be extras, such as a brand new video interview with comic book magician/anarchist Alan Moore, discussing all things Robert Anton Wilson, or "Pope Bob" as he is known to this lot.

But that's just for starters.

Here we go againHere we go againDaisy, conceived backstage at her father's 1976 Liverpool production of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus!, has already successfully directed her own version of Neil Oram's epic, The Warp (which Ken Campbell brought to the Everyman stage in 1980).

So, obviously, such a chip off the old block would be up for resurrecting Illuminatus! - a magnum opus by two Playboy writers which, in a nutshell, took the piss. By using psychology, quantum physics and conspiracy theory the Trilogy demonstrated just how arbitrary and untrustworthy our beliefs really are.

But, obviously, this chip off this block doesn't do obvious, or as Alan Moore might have it: "If you are doing something that you are entirely comfortable with, that is probably because you have done it before. Or somebody else has done it before. So there is actually little point in doing it again. Always take on incredibly difficult and hard projects that will probably be the ruin of you.” 

John Higgs'I Blame Liverpool': John
Higgs, author of The KLF:
Chaos, Magic and the Band
Who Burned A Million Pounds. .
Whatever you might think of that, “the whole thing has been this series of synchronicities and strangeness,” says Daisy, a woman who studied a Liverpool John Moores University MA in Jung's collective unconscious and whose own favourite quote (borrowed from Antero Alli) is "Yesterday they called it coincidence. Today it's synchronicity. Tomorrow they'll call it skill."

“I had no intention of doing this at all," she says. "Every so often I get a phone call saying 'Is it time to do Illuminatus!'. That's happened for years and years, ever since I did the Warp really.

“But just over a year ago in the same week, two completely different people unknown to each other called me and said 'Is it time to do Illuminatus!?'

"And I was like hmm, yes, OK, maybe this is the time. But I knew I didn't want to do Illuminatus. It's not  right to do that exact same show again.

"But it suddenly occurred to me that I could do Cosmic Trigger, which is the book Wilson wrote about what happened to him almost as a result of the staging of the Illuminatus! It's the non-fiction sequel whereas the Illuminatus! was the pure crazy show.”

Illiminatus!Illiminatus! staged on the floor above what is now Flanagan's Apple

The story of how Ken Campbell and cohort Chris Langham came to stage the Illuminatus!, as the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, is also down to a fair whack of serendipity: an encounter between the former and another Man Who Has A Lot To Answer For: Peter O'Halligan, he of the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, in Mathew Street.

The Programme. Click to make massiveThe Programme. Click to
make massive
Alas there just isn't the space to detail the whys and wherefores (you get all that in next month's talk) but it's a tale redolent with chance and the conspiracist's favourite lottery number, 23. The production opened on November 23, 1976, with 23 actors playing to 23 people. The band/crew included at least two members of Big In Japan: Jayne Casey, Ian Broudie, (Bill Drummond designed and made the sets), and ex Beatles manager Allan Williams as a singing dolphin.

Subsequently Illuminatus! transferred to the National Theatre where it catapulted into the cosmos the careers of Campbell, Langham, Gee (who played the goddess of chaos, Eris) and actors Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent.


But back to Cosmic Trigger. "The big news is we ha ve the option on the rights from the Wilson and Shea estates,” she says. 

“The way I've adapted it is that you start with Wilson, you get to know him a bit as an editor at Playboy.

“He and his best mate Robert Shea then they write the great Discordian novel - at which point, in my adaptation, they stop writing it and they become the characters. So then we are into a scene from Illuminatus! and then of course whose voice rings out from the back of the stalls but my dad's.

“So then we're backstage in Liverpool and my mum can even be in it, my dad, any of the people who were involved in it, there they all are.”

“Ok, does that include Allan Williams?”

“Well you know, it could.”

Daisy is not alone in all this. There's her production partner Michelle Watson who has made the journey up from London today, and a gaggle of actors, puppeteers, uninitiated Kazimier regulars, original Illuminoids and mates of Ken's all dropping by for a chat as the afternoon wears on. Many become infected with her enthusiasm and a straggle even takes a promenade down Mathew Street to, er, the place where it all began (well, for her anyway).

“We've got to do something in here,” Daisy tells Michelle as we wander around the first floor of Flanagan's Apple, the Parlour of the old Liverpool School. “We need to harness the spirit seeping out of the bricks.”

The point of the February event is to whip up interest for the latest Campbell caper, whether that be funding or people wanting to be involved. There will be sample scenes as well as the talks from her and colleague Higgs. "We met completely by chance. We both live in Brighton, our kids are the same age and we both go on holiday in Anglesey," she laughs.

Alan MooreAlan MooreCrowd-funding for the show gets under way then, with supporters being asked to donate £23.

For hardcore Justified and Ancients, you get to become a Discordian Pope for that amount. Plus you get a copy of an exclusive, never-before-heard interview with Shea and Wilson backstage at the NT. Also there's a previously unavailable Ken Campbell box-set of recordings of his one-man-shows and an audio recording of the original Illuminatus! production.

Daisy says: “All I can say is this show seems to want to happen, and bad. I'm surfing wave after wave of goodwill around this project.”

Cosmic Trigger will première somehow and somewhere in Liverpool later this year, that is for sure. Beyond that, who is funding it, who is in it, where it is being staged and who is designing the sets are all questions yet to be answered.

Only one thing is known. It will open on November 23.

Save the date. Underline it in your diary as “MAGIC”.

*Time to Pull the Cosmic Trigger? The Kazimier, 4-5 Wolstenholme Square, L1 4JJ , 4pm, Sunday, February 23rd. Obviously. Tickets HERE and it's £5 on the door. 

Tweets by Angie Sammons @twangeee

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