All You Need Is LSD

Bristol Old Vic

November, 2018


Designer drugs at tobacco den

Sprawling, fractured, sometimes insightful, other times wildly incoherent, and mostly plain weird – if All You Need Is LSD does nothing else, it certainly reflects the rollercoaster ride that the ingestion of lysergic acid diethylamide induces among those who choose to take it.

Luckily, this new co-production between Birmingham Rep and Told By An Idiot theatre company achieves more than that during its 90-minute trip.

The history of this substance – accidentally discovered by scientist Albert Hofmann in 1938 – blazes a psychedelic trail that pulls in usual suspects Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary and The Beatles, along with more unlikely bit players including Dr Who and even Dame Helen Mirren.

The conceit underpinning the play is relatively straightforward.

Playwright Leo Butler (Annie Fitzmaurice) wants to write about LSD.

He visits controversial drugs expert Professor David Nutt (George Potts) and somehow finds himself talking part in a secret LSD trial.

This (apparently) is fact.

The rest is a hallucinatory mix of characters who aren’t what they seem, situations which may or may not be real, a dollop of distorted brain chemistry, flashing lights, repetitive speeches, distortions of time and fractured memories.

In short it’s chaos, but in the hands of the cast (including the excellent Sophie Mercell and Jack Hunter) wildly veering themes are handled deftly and with plenty of humour, even as they repeatedly kick down the fourth wall (if it ever existed in the first place).

Not everything is brought to the fore.

The legendarily scary ‘bad trip’ is all but ignored, and although there is one reference to a suicide prompted by LSD ingestion it isn’t really enough to balance out all the Alice-In-Wonderland/Strawberry-Fields-Forever hi-jinks.

That said, this is an enjoyable romp through a complicated subject, especially at a time when calls for the reassessment of drugs and drug policy are increasingly louder and, finally, the powers-that-be are taking notice.

This was a world premiere from playwright Leo Butler, at the Tobacco Factory promoted as 'this darkly humorous new play illuminates the drugs debate that won’t go away and examines the freedom we have to make our own choices in life, and death'.

Tom Henry

* 'A lot of fun,' The Stage
* 'Playful genius,' Behind The Arras
* 'A historical, educational, thought-provoking play through deranged comedy and insane multi-part playing, with hallucinogenic elements,' The Gay UK
* 'Fast, furious, and very often, funny' Reviews Gate
* 'Their work is never less than sublime,' The Independent

Its three day run in Bristol is finished but if you hurry you can catch it:

  • Tuesday to Saturday, November 6-10 at The Lowry, Salford at 8pm. For online tickets £12/£10 concessions click HERE  or call the box office on 0843 208 6000; and

  • Thursday to Saturday, November 15-17, at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry at 7.45pm with matinee on 17th at 2.30pm. For online tickets £12-14.75/£9-£12.75 concessions click HERE  or call the box office on 024 7655 3055.