Theatre Review: All You Need Is LSD, Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: Unity Theatre

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Play
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: October 17 2018
Location: Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Not a lot of people truly know about LSD. They’ve heard of it, or they simply know that it has potentially serious negative effects on the person taking it. This latest stage show looks to use dark comedy to truly demonstrate the impact of LSD, both in a positive light while the user is on a “trip”, and on occasion the genuine downsides that can lead to health problems and even death.

The cast consists of four performers, each of whom plays a variety of roles, and all of whom shine in their own way. Annie Fitzmaurice is writing up a story about LSD but ends up indulging and explaining her history of using all sorts of drugs in a light-hearted manner. Sophie Mercell serves as a doctor, albeit one who dabbles herself with LSD at times. George Potts has the greatest contrast between roles, at times believing that he is a famous figure (such as Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States) and at other moments being a highly-serious CIA agent, on occasion being a daft and likeable fool, and during one scene, playing it totally serious as he brushes with death due to overusage of LSD. Finally, we have Jack Hunter, who emits the biggest laughs for suddenly switching accents, hamming up his personas to the max, and generally demonstrating his talents, both when acting completely whacky and when speaking with genuine emotion to the audience.

The show itself doesn’t necessarily have a true narrative thread. At times, it feels like a history of LSD, but the timeline changes throughout (midway through, we get a brief – and authentic – impersonation of The Beatles, but right before the end we’re transported into the opening scene of the very first episode of Doctor Who, broadcast in 1963), and although we revisit characters and situations, it feels like there is no true beginning, middle or end. But I must stress that the performers themselves emphasise this: the show often breaks the fourth wall in an attempt to provide humour that you wouldn’t see in any other show, which can be hit and miss.

The show plays up the positive vibes that one feels when they are truly tripping with LSD, hence why moments play out that otherwise would make no sense. In the mind of the user, it makes perfect sense, whether it be the environment around them changing into a mini-slide, strange music, psychedelic lights, or believing that they have encountered some wonderfully odd people from the other side of the world. Props are used and referred to with varying degrees of success (Annie repeatedly reminding us that she had to buy Lurpak instead of butter being one example), and there are other unique tools used to garner laughs. One of the funniest moments came when Annie and George essentially played out the same scene three times in a row, with each re-do getting more and more laughs.

We learn, via Jack’s personal monologue to the audience, that the story seems to have been written back in February 2017, with the writer – played here by Jack, but really referring to the actual scriptwriter Leo Butler – coming up with the story either under the influence or as a response to the usage of LSD. It serves to be an education about how LSD came to be and its genuine effects, positive or negative, as well as a dark-humour parody of what life is like when reliant on the drug, but also an eye-opener to those who automatically assume doom and gloom when they think about LSD, such as emphasising its medical roots and noting on a chart at the end that it has been responsible for far fewer deaths than other drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Presented by Told By An Idiot and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, All You Need Is LSD is certainly a unique show. It’s hard to pin down a true purpose in terms of a message, because I wouldn’t say that this is promoting LSD usage by any means. I would say that it lampoons the trips that LSD users encounter, bringing to life imaginative situations that normally exist only in the minds of users and ramping them up for maximum comedy impact, while also trying to be genuinely insightful and, where appropriate, honest about the impact it can have. It did have one of my bug bears with theatre shows, that being the frequent usage of big words and medical terms to try and garner chuckles. It took a while to get going, and I felt that it wasn’t quite as laugh-out-loud as one may believe when watching this show amongst other attendees (some of whom may have even dabbled with LSD themselves, who knows?).

But it’s definitely something original, something different, and though the situations may sound baffling when described on paper, in practice they make sense as a collection of bizarre, unconnected scenes that come to life in the mind purely through using LSD. It was emphasised that the show only gives teasers about certain scenes; nobody ever says “I am doing this because I’m using LSD”, nor does somebody say “This is where we are and this is what I’m doing”. Context is kept to a minimum wherever possible, letting the audience decide for themselves what is happening and what the messages are, thus ensuring that everybody has their own way of viewing this show and their own thoughts about the production when they leave the auditorium.

Overall, All You Need Is LSD is an education, a parody and an extended PSA using dark humour. It is at times amusing, fascinating, informative, serious, weird, illogical and incoherent, but all of these are intentional, and they all come together to form the identity of the show. It’s a show that is worth checking out if you’re interested in the subject matter; I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for being a non-stop laughter ride, but I can definitely say that if you do go to see All You Need Is LSD, it’s an experience that you won’t soon forget. Also, the performances by each actor are all excellent, so it’s a chance to see four very different characters, with varying backgrounds and levels of experience, give it their all in an environment that they have never inhabited before. It may or may not change your views on LSD, but the topic serves as the basis for a truly unique and memorable show.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good