Writer: Leo Butler
Directors: Paul Hunter and Stephen Harper
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Sometimes you’ll finish watching a production and ask yourself. ‘What were they on when they wrote that?’ – no need for that question after Told By An Idiot’s All You Need is LSD – as playwright, Leo Butler told the Guardian, while interviewing Professor David Nutt for this play, he was invited to take part in a trial about therapeutic uses of LSD. Within a week, he was part of the trial having LSD administered.
One result was this phantasmagorical production, in which Butler appears as a character and where the audience accompanies Butler as he regresses and experiences his past as well as sharing hallucinations in which LSD advocate Timothy Leary rubs shoulders with its accidental inventor, Albert Hoffman, Aldous Huxley and other celebrity users and experimenters as well as characters from Alice in Wonderland and Doctor Who. Woven in, almost unnoticed, are facts – how LSD stops much of the processing we do unconsciously from taking place and allowing, according to users, for a clearer vision of reality and expanded consciousness; the relative harmfulness of drugs to oneself and others, according to Nutt; how Huxley on his deathbed called for one last injection.
The whole is a trippy stream-of-consciousness flitting from place to place and character to character assisted by imaginative direction from Paul Hunter and Stephen Harper, a soundscape with verified psychedelic credentials including extracts from Pink Floyd and a set from Sophia Clist that allows characters to appear and disappear surreally. Butler’s script winks at many established theatre tropes, gleefully smashing the fourth wall and congratulating itself un-self-consciously as it does so.
The cast of four takes on all the rôles with Annie Fitzmaurice mostly taking the part of Butler , expressing his manifesto with a dryness and wit and some lovely throwaway lines. Jack Hunter brings, among others, Leary, loud and brash in his advocacy for LSD, although his accent is a touch suspect. He also brings us a long inchoate monologue as Butler addresses us directly from his desk. George Potts provides Nutt and Huxley – his silent Huxley approaching death adds to the especially tender scene with Sophie Mercell playing his wife as he pleads for one last hit and she provides it, declaring her love for him as he dies. Mercell is also memorable as Hofmann on his infamous bike ride after ingesting LSD, as well as Helen Mirren discussing an experiment while at the RSC.
This is not a production for everyone – the narrative is hardly linear and at times it feels a touch self-indulgent, but that is the point – it’s giving its audience a glimpse inside the head of one man and his experiences using LSD and in this sense, the structure makes perfect sense. Enter with an open mind and who knows, maybe it will be expanded further.
Runs Until 13 October 2018 | Image: Benkin Photography