I was greeted by two hooded robed figures in animal masks, who took my details, gave me a name badge and a raffle ticket. I was joining a cult.
Well sort of. The Church of Phil Recruitment Seminar was part of the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. From the dated PowerPoint presentation with its garish word art titles, sound effects and ‘accidental’ subliminal messages, to the welcome song sung by two perma-grinning recruiters, through to the special guest speakers who have been saved by Phil, this was a show full of gleeful absurdity and unabashed silliness.
So who is Phil? Why he is their leader, the former child star of a series of television adverts for Kool ‘n’ Sooth cooling strips in the 90s. Phil is also a global pharmaceuticals brand, in which there most definitely vested interests. And lastly, Phil is a way of life, a philosophy. In the hour long session, I learnt about Phil through the story of the church, based at the caravan park, Camp Phil, in Pembrokeshire, through the personal stories of the recruiters and their guests, through the faith healing conducted on an audience member, and through the meditation session wherein I imagined riding a banana through space.
Confused? I’ll be honest, my words can’t do this show justice. It has to be seen. It is fringe entertainment at its purest, with a very DIY feel that makes it feel far more real than if it had had the polish of a larger theatre company. If you like to laugh, this is for you.
While recruitment may be over in Cardiff, no doubt the Church will be hosting seminars somewhere near year soon (they do have 300 members, after all). Their next seminar will be up in Edinburgh for the Free Fringe in August.
Word of warning, however: you may find yourself indoctrinated. I may or may not have signed a contract.
Phil be with you.
Welcome To The Future - Fire Donkey Productions
We wake up from being cryogenically frozen, having joined “the right cult”. Mr Butter-Cow
offers us an unlimited supply of milk if we help him to topple the sentient carrot king. We torture
the carrot prince and follow a map to the last known bee to uncover the secret of power
in the year 2058. This sassy bee teaches us to dance, and then we behead
the carrot army with a flourish.
All quite a lot to take in, to be honest. With ‘Welcome To The Future’, Fire Donkey
Productions have created an intergalactic, interactive show which may or may not be your bag,
but is guaranteed to leave you thoroughly bamboozled. From the costumes, (highlights include
a milkable cow hoodie), to the projections (a webcam video of said cow) the production value
is delightfully lofi. The performance, however, is brilliantly polished and high-energy, and
although the whole affair seems like a 6-year-old’s fever dream, the actors seem to have a
gift whereby every single member of the audience has a great time.
Despite turning up to a kids’/ family show on my own, at 3.30pm on a Saturday, I found that I
couldn’t stop smiling. Whether that was the sprays of water, the Welsh voiceovers, the beard
fondling, or the carrot-brandishing, it’s impossible to say - but I had a blast. There are moments,
even, of unprecedented horror; witnessing the torture of a carrot with peelers of
various dimensions felt positively barbaric. I’m not sure I was fully prepared to question my
vegetarianism, but there we go. It’s safe to say that at times, the piece feels slightly
primary school play-esque, but it’s all part of the package. If you can get past questioning why this
show ever came into being, it’ll be fine.
This is a laugh. Take your kids - or take yourself.
Written by Grace Spencer