“Tune up, tune out and drop in” – Leo Butler discusses All You Need is LSD

Posted on 7 November 2018

LSD is a Class A hallucinogenic drug, illegal to sell, to give away or even possess. It is not, however, illegal to write a hugely inventive, funny and thought-provoking play about it, which is exactly what playwright Leo Butler set out to do with All You Need Is LSD, a new show coming to the Belgrade Theatre 15-17 November.

Presented by acclaimed theatre company Told By An Idiot in partnership with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, this darkly humorous, off-the-wall production heads to Coventry following a warmly received premiere in Birmingham this autumn, drawing on Butler’s own direct experience.

All You Need is LSD

“I wanted to write a play that explored the history of drug use, focusing primarily on LSD as it is probably the most controversial, and to raise questions about the dangers and/or benefits of recreational drugs in our culture now,” he explained.

All You Need is LSD might not be the first time drug-taking has featured in one of his plays, but it is the first time it’s taken centre stage. In the play, he (or rather, a character called Leo who is played by Annie Fitzmaurice) reels off a list of drugs s/he has taken recreationally over the years. But it’s his/her legal use of drugs that’s at the heart of this show, after an invitation from controversial psychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt to take part in the world’s first LSD drug trials since the 1960s.

All You Need is LSD

“It was a happy accident that I met with Professor David Nutt who invited me to be a participant in the current LSD trials,” he continues. “The trials were set up to explore the neurological impact of the drug and to determine whether they had any use in palliative care – and for therapy in general – or, indeed, if a powerful drug like LSD could be decriminalised – like booze and sugar and cigarettes – for pleasure.”

Not only did his participation in the trials provide research for the play, it also helped him to discover the form that it would take, which he always hoped would be a little like the experience of taking the drug itself.

“I certainly wanted to shake up an audience’s opinions about psychedelic drugs, as I don’t think I’ve seen a single play or film that doesn’t portray drugs as a decadent, criminal, or ‘bad thing’.

All You Need is LSD

“Putting myself at the heart of the play, alongside people like Timothy Leary (American psychologist and 1960s countercultural figure who coined the phrase ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’) and Aldous Huxley (the English writer who famously took LSD on his deathbed), has allowed me to explore the subject honestly and to plunder my imagination.”

Leo’s own experience of drugs, both in his twenties and during the drug trials have, he says, been overwhelmingly positive. But despite its provocative title, All You Need Is LSD isn’t designed to be an advert for drugs, though it does seek to redress the balance somewhat.

All You Need is LSD

Butler also takes the opportunity to question his own responsibility when talking about drugs.

“Is it irresponsible to speak positively about drugs?” he muses. “People have used drugs for pleasure and for spiritual awakening but are they right? What are these drugs for and who should be taking them?”

The finished play tackles all of these questions and more, taking audiences on a rollercoaster trip through time and place – from the first discovery of LSD in 1930s Switzerland, through the 1960s complete with cameos from everyone from The Beatles to Dame Helen Mirren, and off into a distant future reached via TARDIS in the company of a certain travelling Time Lord.

All You Need is LSD

Interested in finding out more? Get ready to stretch your mind, turn up, tune out and drop in when All You Need is LSD comes to the Belgrade 15-17 November. Tickets are available to book now.