All You need is LSD - Q&A with playwright Leo Butler

All You need is LSD  - Q&A with playwright Leo Butler

All You Need Is LSD is an exciting new play which explores the birth and use of psychedelic drugs. The play is amalgamation of scenes including Leo’s own experiences of the LSD drug trials in the 90s, the story of the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, the philosopher Aldous Huxley with guest appearances of characters including Dame Helen Mirren, Doctor Who, and Alice and the White Rabbit from Wonderland. The play is like an acid trip itself; the scenes melt in to one another. They repeat, rewind and often completely break the fourth wall. It is a hugely inventive new form of theatre, a roller-coaster of a trip. It shakes up the audience’s opinions of about psychedelic drugs and re-proposes the ongoing questions about whether LSD should be decriminalised in the future of palliative care or even recreational use.

Before viewing the world premier, which will be reviewed in a later piece, I had the opportunity to ask the playwright, Leo Butler, a few questions about the process of writing and the issues at the heart of his new play: All You Need Is LSD.

What made you decide to write a play about LSD?

I wanted to write a play about psychedelic drugs for many years as they had a profound and positive effect on me when I was a teenager, in Sheffield in the early ‘90’s.  A few stand-up comedians have talked positively about LSD in front of a live audience – Bill Hicks and Robin Williams for instance - but I’ve always found most plays take an overly earnest and moralistic approach to the subject of recreational drugs.

What are your thoughts on the decriminalization of LSD? Do you think it should happen? For leisure or for therapy?

Yes – absolutely – for both leisure and therapy.  The play explores the therapeutic possibilities of LSD in palliative care and in treating depression or addiction.  LSD isn’t addictive, and, if taken responsibly, is harmless (despite being incredibly powerful).  It’s silly how we normalise the most dangerous drug of all – alcohol – and integrate it into our everyday lives – and into our childrens’ lives (the ritual of getting pissed on your 18th birthday is fairly standard, right?). However you’d be considered a lunatic to suggest offering our kids drugs like LSD and Ecstasy.  But why not?  If you could be sure of the quality of these drugs (so they’re not spiked with something nasty) and we had sensible education around them (the do’s and don’t’s), I think it would be brilliant for people to be having aesthetic revelations about themselves at the weekend rather than just collapsing in doorways or getting into fights when the pubs close.   LSD and Ecstasy helped propel and galvanise anti-war movements, the civil rights movement, feminism, the green movement, alongside spurring countless artists and musicians to break the barriers of their craft.  What’s alcohol done in comparison?  Propelled people into addiction and depression?  I’m not against people having a drink, but I can guarantee the world and politics and the environment would be in a far better shape if psychedelics were integrated into our everyday lives.  I’d like Donald Trump, Theresa May and Nigel Farage to take acid with some Syrian & Mexican folk in a forest somewhere.  The world would change overnight.


Have your personal experiences with LSD trials affected your ideas about legalization?

The trials were an education in how LSD might be used in therapy, and so my belief that they should be legalised or decriminalised in some way was only strengthened.  Forget about recreation for a moment – how wonderful would it be to have a practical tool to help people overcome alcoholism or to cope with schizophrenia?  Would it not be preferable to use a non-addictive drug like LSD to help people with depression, rather than forcing people to become addicted to anti-depressants that often have terrible side-effects?  And if you’re suffering from a terminal illness, wouldn’t it be nice to have the choice to use a drug like LSD which would help alleviate the inevitable anxiety and fears when faced with our own death?  It’s not madness to replace such anxiety with the kind of euphoria and reconnection (with other human beings and nature) that LSD delivers. 


Why do you think the UK won’t/ haven’t legalized drugs like marijuana when they have in the Netherlands and so many states in America and Canada?

Can you imagine Theresa May wanting to legalize marijuana?  Well, she may have to post-Brexit as we might be in dire need of a boost to the economy – cultivating marijuana could be a lucrative homegrown industry, and one that can be taxed.  I’m sure there are plenty of Conservative MPs who have (and still do) enjoy a bit of white powder when they’re partying at the BBC or at the Daily Mail Xmas Party.  I suspect there are a few who may have had a psychedelic or a spliff once or twice too.  But they’d never want ordinary people to enjoy themselves on cannabis or psychedelics.  These drugs propel people to look deep into themselves and think about their lives outside of our everyday systems, not to mention being tremendously effective in connecting people who usually see themselves as individuals.  Remember how the Tories outlawed the parties and the raves of the ‘90’s?  It wasn’t the music or the glow-sticks they were against, it was the political act of people from all walks of life, all cultures, coming together outside of the capitalist system and enjoying themselves – a psychedelic Union.   The conservative agenda doesn’t want anyone looking outside of the system because they want to control the system and control the way we think about the system, which, in a conservative universe, is individualistic and puritanical.   Cannabis and LSD make a mockery of such systems, they incite equality rather than inequality, they quash divisions of race and gender and class and sovereignty.  The conservatives, on the other hand, depend on those divisions to stay rich and in power.   Alcohol and sugar are fine though – one’s a depressant, the other makes people fat and unhealthy. 


What do you see happening with the war on drugs? Do you see any drugs being legalized in your lifetime (in the UK)?

Yes, I do.  Cannabis will be legalized within the next decade I think.  Post-Brexit, post-the current government, once all the disgusting, tub-thumping nationalism has petered out.

I hope that LSD will be allowed – soon – to be used in therapy. I’m very optimistic that it will be.


Are there scenes in the production with characters on LSD? If so was this difficult to write? Were there any big challenges? If so how did you overcome them?

In the first draft, I did include a fairly naturalistic scene of a couple taking LSD – but it’s such a subjective, internalised experience it was difficult to dramatize it in a way that wasn’t cheesy or cliched.  So I abandoned that fairly early on.

Yes, but my ‘Leo’ character and others do take LSD in the show, but often it’s done in a comedic, non-naturalistic way.

The best way to show the LSD experience was to make the SHOW ITSELF feel like an acid-trip.  We lose sense of time, the conventional structures of a play are abandoned and replaced with something more surprising and playful, scenes fall into one another, everything becomes connected but you might not know where you’re going to go next.


Do you see yourself doing any other productions based on this topic in the future?

It’s unlikely I’ll write a play about LSD again, but I’m working on something that includes a lot of alcohol.  And I’d like to create a fictional drug like Aldous Huxley did in Brave New World


What do you want your audience to take away from your production?

A bloody good night out – lots of fun, some laughs and some tears.  If you go away thinking about or asking questions about LSD or other drugs, then that’s a thumbs up from me too.


Kate Valentine Crisp