ABERYSTWYTH Arts Centre’s Summer show this year will be a musical about one of the biggest drug busts the world has ever seen.
Over four decades ago, rural west Wales was at the centre of one of the greatest drugs busts in history which involved 800 police officers who went undercover to break an LSD ring that supplied 60 per cent of the global supply.
The police investigation, Operation Julie, resulted in dozens of arrests and the discovery of LSD worth half a billion pounds in today’s money in places such as Tregaron, Carno and Llanddewi Brefi.
Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre will present an ambitious co-production for audiences in Aberystwyth before touring Wales.
Operation Julie is a musical play packed with songs, drama and comedy, telling the extraordinary story of what happened in and around west Wales in the mid-1970s when hippies settled in the area seeking a new way of living fuelled by acid and an alternative attitude.
When a chance clue is discovered following a car accident, the local constabulary work with detectives from across Britain to uncover what turned out to be the biggest stash of acid ever found, taking out up to 60 per cent of the world’s LSD market at that time.
Among the main protagonists are Richard Kemp and Christine Bott, a couple living near Tregaron who find a way of making the purest LSD the world had ever known, and roguish dealer, Smiles, based in Llanddewi Brefi.
Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s version of events tells the story from both sides of the law, with Geinor Styles writer and director of the show meeting and interviewing a variety of people from that time, including one of the main acid dealers, Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes – who was a key part of the LSD chain from his modest home in Llanddewi Brefi – and Anne Parry, the wife of the late Detective Sergeant Richie Parry.
Speaking today, Smiles says the acid movement was as much about a sustainable lifestyle and a commitment to saving the planet, as it was about psychedelic trips: “We were raising the flag and saying look, look, this is an emergency.
“We [humans] were spending the world’s capital, we weren’t living off the interest, we were spending the capital. And look at the state of the world now. They should have listened – they should have bloody listened…
“Then [in the 1970s], there was still the time to change. We could have changed lots and lots of things about society, and instead we went the other way, it just went into this global consumerism.”
While the production had to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic, Geinor Styles feels that the story continues to grow in its modern-day relevance. “I was astonished how relevant this story was to us living in a time where the effect of what we are doing and continue to do to the planet is a threat to our existence. It is as simple as that.
“Kemp and Bott knew this and wanted to do all that they could to save humanity.
“In light of recent films like “Don’t Look Up” and the continued denial of climate change, the message is relevant and urgent and still needs to be told and retold,” she says.
“This philosophy was emphasised by our protagonist Richard Kemp, a talented scientist, who moved to Tregaron in the early ‘70s and created the purest form of LSD.”
Operation Julie’s composer Greg Palmer says he discussed Smiles’ psychedelic musical tastes and the records that influenced him during the period of creating the play.
“Smiles has referenced a number of bands from that era – Caravan, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan. “I’ve been very keen from the beginning of the process to have the sound world of the play reflect those musical trends.”
“Operation Julie will be a popular and important theatre production,” says Dafydd Rhys, Director of Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
He added: “We’re looking forward to seeing this production of a uniquely Welsh tale that had an impact throughout the world. It also has the added bonus that the music will be fantastic! We know the audience will be in for a treat – a really good night of quality, thought provoking and popular theatre.”
· Operation Julie will premiere at Aberystwyth Arts Centre with performances running from 30 July to 13 August 2022 and will then tour to Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon 24 - 26 August and Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen 31 August – 2 September.