A new play at The Lowry reckons that All You Need Is LSD – but what do we know about acid and where do we go from here?

1. Mind-bending beginnings: Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, was first synthesised by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938 for pharmaceutical purposes, then re-examined five years later, on 16 April 1943, when Hofmann accidentally ingested a small amount, experiencing ‘an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours’. Three days later was the now infamous Bicycle Day, the first intentional LSD trip, when he self-administered 250 micrograms of LSD and cycled home. Continued research led Hofmann to call it ‘medicine for the soul’ with great benefits for psychoanalysis when used under supervision, blaming criticism of the drug on its misuse by 60s counterculture. In 2008, shortly before his death at the ripe old age of 102, Hofmann wrote to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, asking him to support research into LSD’s therapeutic benefits.

2. Literature and LSD: Not surprisingly, the Brave New World author Aldous Huxley is a key character in the play, having famously documented the experience of necking mescaline, the hallucination-inducing active ingredient of the peyote cactus, in his 1954 book The Doors of Perception (inspired by a quote from 19th-century poet William Blake and later lending itself to Jim Morrison’s psychedelic rock band name in the 60s). The play contains lots of other references to literature (think Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel Through The Looking-glass, for starters) and Leo says: ‘I’m reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and it’s surprisingly psychedelic. Perhaps she was micro-dosing?’.

3. Musical inspiration: Leo says: ‘I first read about LSD when I was about 10 years old because I was – still am – a huge Beatles’ fan, and I wanted a bit of what they had before they went in the studio to record Sgt. Pepper. Thankfully, I didn’t take any when I was 10; instead I waited until I was about 17, and it felt like a kind of enlightenment.’ What with alleged references to LSD in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the go-to acid-inspired Beatles album, but Revolver came first, just after the fourpiece’s first experiences with the drug in the spring of 1965. All You Need Is LSD gives a nod to a few of Leo’s Madchester heroes too (think Shaun Ryder and Ian Brown). ‘I’d hoped to include [them] in the play, but it would have ended up being four hours long (which no one wants). Something of their spirit is in there I think.’

4. Other famous faces: Lots of celebrities are namechecked in the play as having been affected by hallucinogenic experiences, good or bad, including some of the usual suspects, along with some surprises. Says Leo: ‘I wanted to include Sean Connery and Cary Grant, who loved a bit of the old Lysergic… but they didn’t make the final cut, the LSD story is so huge.’

5. Psychedelic revolution : The play’s blurb asks: ‘Does the world still need a psychedelic revolution?’, so we asked Leo: does it? ‘The psychedelic revolution of the 60s came at a time of Civil Rights, the Cold War, and Vietnam. The second summer of love arrived in the late 80s-early 90s at a time of Thatcherism, industrial decline, and rampant individualism. Now we’re in the middle of these times of Trump, Brexit and politicised – often violent – social division…’

Read our preview for All You Need Is LSD here.

Tue 6 – Sat 10 Nov, The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ, Tel: 0843 208 6000, 8pm, £10-12, www.thelowry.com

Tue 6 Nov - Sat 10 Nov
Sarah-Clare Conlon
Published on:
Thu 25 Oct 2018