From The Beatles experimentations through locals’ obsession with Pink Floyd and the development of Acid House, Liverpool has always had a comfortable relationship with LSD. It’s also indisputable that the drug has had a massive impact on wider popular culture with the worlds of music, film, literature, visual art and theatre all having undergone creative revolutions owing to lysergic acid diethylamine.
Fertile ground, then, for a play exploring the story of the drug, society’s relationship with it and one writer’s experiences and experiments. ALL YOU NEED IS LSD is acclaimed playwright Leo Butler’s ‘part history, part fantasy’ all about a substance which has consistently promised a psychedelic revolution. Using his involvement in controversial drug tsar David Nutt’s LSD medical trials as a jumping off point, the production, in collaboration with much-loved theatre company, Told by an Idiot, contributes to the drug debate in a humorous, insightful and trippy way. Butler answers our questions ahead of the play coming to the Unity Theatre in October.
Could you tell us about the origins of the All You Need Is LSD project?
I always wanted to write a play about drugs – especially psychedelics – as I have some experience with them and most plays usually just say ‘drugs are bad’ which isn’t necessarily the case. By chance I was invited by Professor David Nutt to take part in an LSD trial while I was researching the play – a magic moment!
Have the subjects of LSD and psychedelia always interested you and has that manifested itself in any of your earlier works?
I first got interested in LSD through my love of The Beatles and all things ‘summer of love’ – that was when I was a kid. I was a teenager during the ‘90’s second summer of love, which kind of shaped who I am today. As for the work, I’ve written about crack-cocaine before, but LSD is a lot more fun and a lot less harmful. I always like to take an audience on a ‘trip’ of some kind and create the unexpected. There’s nothing worse than spending money on seeing a boring play, so I always want my own plays to be memorable.
How has it been working with the company Told by an Idiot?
It’s been a privilege to work with such a bunch of idiots. They’re fearless and funny, and they don’t spend hours sitting around a table examining the script. We’ve had the play on its feet since day one, and every member of the company has contributed to the finished play. It’s in the hands of the actors now, it’s their baby.
With the city’s cultural history, do you think the play will have any extra resonance in Liverpool?
Well, the Beatles feature in the play, and their approach to music has certainly influenced the writing. Liverpool’s played a massive role in both the first and second Summer of Love – and it’s been the home of so many exciting, counter-cultural artists over the years. I’m so excited that this is my first play to come here, I love this City, the people properly look after each other and don’t take any cr*p.
In the context of drug policy, would you say there is a central argument to All You Need Is LSD?
I’m in favour of decriminalisation of most drugs, it would save lives because it by stopping kids having to buy off the streets where you’re not sure what you’re buying or become attracted to dealing. It would give scientists a chance to explore using psychedelics to help with addiction and depression, and it would allow people to use psychedelics for recreation without any of the stigma, and to do so sensibly. But we have to cut through the myths and b*llsh*t, and start redefining our language about drugs. The play’s asking us to look at drugs in a different way for once, but it’s essentially a fun night out, it’s entertainment.
What has the director and the cast brought to the production?
Everything. They’ve put it on its feet, brought ideas and suggestions, made it their own. The script is just the blueprint, it’s up to them to give it its magic.
How are you expecting people to react to the play?
Laughter and tears, gasps and giggles, tapping feet, something to talk about on the bus home.
How would you describe All You Need Is LSD in 25 words or under?
Mad. Wild. Moving. Nuts. Funny. Serious sometimes. Heart-felt. Music-y. Weird. Real-life. Provocative. Daft. Loved-up. Dramatic.
All You Need Is LSD is on at the Unity Theatre 16th-20th October.
Tickets are avaialable from unitytheatre.co.uk