Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Operation Julie: Book, Background and Round-up

In Search of Smiles

Andy Roberts & Alston Hughes , Book & Stage , June 13, 2024
In Search of Smiles by Andy Roberts & Alston Hughes On 5th October 2023 Phylip Harries and Ieuan Rhys produced an event at Aberystwyth's Theatr y Werin. After some repartee, well-honed after decades of professional and personal comradeship, they yielded the stage to the evening's main participants.

Geinor Styles hosted three guests from near and further afield. The quieter of the three was a life-long resident of the Tregaron area.

A boy at the time of the massive police descent on the Upper Teifi region he spoke with warmth of memory of the arrival of the hippies in the community.

The other guests were both natural raconteurs. The words bubbled forth easefully, informatively and entertainingly.

It was not the first time, and not the last, that Andy Roberts and Alston “Smiles” Hughes were to be seen at the theatre production. Their relationship was particular, one being the biographer of the other.

* * * *

“In Search of Smiles” was published in 2023 by Psychedelic Press of London. The book's subtitle is “LSD, Operation Julie and Beyond.”

Andy Roberts is the foremost chronicler of the last era of psychedelic culture. He is heir to a deep cultural tradition: Coleridge, de Quincey, Sherlock Holmes and his seven percent solution, W B Yeats and peyote, Huxley and mescaline, William James and nitrous oxide. The visitors to the opium haunts of Limehouse included royalty.

“In Search of Smiles” is a new chapter in an old story.

Andy Roberts tells a colourful chronicle of a colourful life. Hughes was at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music 27-29 June 1970. LSD in a large bottle, allegedly made at University College London, was handed to all for free on arrival. A key day was in the New Inn in Llandewi Brefi, Hughes sighting a former comrade who had bought a ruin of a house in Maesycrugiau. “Any chance of getting back into the acid?” he asked.

The book's detail of the time includes the fear of the pursuers that all might be lost due to corruption in the London Metropolitan police at the time. Roberts rolls his story decades on to his initial misgivings in 2022.

“The notion of Operation Julie” being turned into a rock musical filled me with dread because surely the outcome could only result in the trivialisation of the over-arching story, the demeaning of those involved and further vilification of LSD itself.”

“I need not have worried. Geinor Styles embarked on detailed research.” A Q&A involved Roberts himself:

“Full of intelligent and thoughtful questions from the audience and equally intelligent and thoughtful responses from the panel.”

* * * *

In 2024 Andy Roberts left a last testimonial to the effect of the production.

“I was lucky enough to see the show performed eight times (inc the first performance in Aber in 2022) and loved every minute of each one. Not bored even for a second despite knowing the script well. Each performance revealed how clever the script was so here’s the big thanks and much love due to all concerned.

“Thanks to:

“Visionary writer and director, Geinor Styles for having the genius, albeit at first unbelievable, idea to stage the Operation Julie events as a rock musical. And even more thanks to Geinor for her diligent and perceptive research which led to the amazing script. Not a word or scene was out of place and everything interlocked perfectly (well, Dick Kemp visiting the phone box was a bit of a puzzler, but it didn’t detract).

"The dialogue was concise and sharp, character appropriate and full of gems. Too many to mention but I’ll give you two - Bott’s retort to Meg and her ‘vegetarian’ Welsh cake - “We’re not all vegetarian and we’re not all hippies” - classic! And the hint of breaking the fourth wall in Smiles’ response of - “Aren’t we all” to Mr Silvertop’s “I’m reenacting” when he reveals he’s not a figment of Smiles’ and Buzz’s trip. And there was more, much more but none of it would have been the joy it was without the actors/actresses in the show who clearly loved performing in what is essentially just another gig in a long lifetime of gigs, each of whom deserves a mention:

“Caitlin Lavagna- for being able to play four different characters and make each of them unique (I know, that’s the job, but still it was remarkable), and for her talent on the bongo things and for having a cracking voice!

“Phyl Harries- For having a highly believable and natural comedic ‘presence’ in whatever character he played (even Wright’s character!). His flute and recorder playing too was a delight. Great actor and the very definition of funny.

“Georgina White- For being far too good at everything- it’s not right someone could be such a good actress/singer/musician all in the same show. Talent like that can surely only come of a pact with the devil! If the girl’s not famous one I’ll eat my hat?!

“Kieran Bailey - For his perfect depiction of DS Richie Parry, as a likeable, pragmatic, slightly wry character, unfazed by the threat of hippie anarchy, and the perfect foil to Steve Simmonds’ pompous Dick Lee.

“Dan Bottomley - For nailing the Smiles character. Not an easy thing to do but I thought he captured Smiles’ Mancunian sharp intelligence, humour, friendliness and generosity of spirit.
Steve Simmonds- For cunningly being able to both amplify and distill the essence of Dick Lee’s hubristic obsessive but essential comical personality into his character and for his powerhouse singing and guitar wrestling, a wonderful thing to experience, if not a tad scary if you’re in the front row and he’s shredding and gyrating a above you! A sensible TV writer/producer should snap him up for a mockumentary series called, ‘Sooooo: Dick Lee Investigates’.

“Daniel Carter-Hope - For showing us two very different characters- the happy go lucky Buzz and the sour, miserable Bentley. His bass playing was pretty damn good too!

“Joseph Tweedale- For his thoughtful depiction of Richard Kemp, not as a hippy-dippy acid alchemist but as a slightly nervy and reclusive but driven individual who knew he made the best acid ever and who really did want to save the world. And for his singing - outstanding on You Know I’ll Always Love You- and playing too. Not sure what the real Dick Kemp would have thought about the ‘dancing’ scene though ).

“Sion Russell Jones - How does it feel being the best Bob Dylan we could imagine? His singing and guitar work was a treat as was the way he dipped his shades slightly to cast a knowing glance at ‘Jackson/Bentley’ in one of the later scenes. Perhaps many didn’t get the Dylan reference in the context of the overall story but it worked perfectly in the show. Full marks for being the psychedelic centurion too- a brilliant character!

“And underpinning the whole shebang was the team of largely unseen behind the scenes people who kept the show on the road - literally, effected seamless scene transitions, lit the sets beautifully and ensured the sound was clean, well-separated and pin sharp.

"Greg Palmer the musical director deserves special mention for making the music choices fit perfectly (although as we know Kemp and Bott were listening to the Grateful Dead when they had their fatal RTA perhaps a Dead song such as Truckin’ would have been more apt?). His arrangements of the songs used gave them a depth and complexity even some of the originals don’t have and that, coupled with the enthusiasm and musicianship of the players really delivered the goods! With a bit of luck we might see a Budgie revival!

“I could, as you know, waffle on but I’ll stop now. Suffice to say that the Operation Julie rock musical has done more to raise the positive profile of LSD and the history of Operation Julie/Microdot Gang than anything else I can recall. And for that I and every acid head who saw the show thank you all, very, very much indeed.

“...I had a watery eye as I left the final show at Crewe Lyceum on Saturday. It’s “highly” unlikely the show will ever be staged again, which is a great shame. But if you saw it, you know. And if you missed it, well you really should have made the effort. The cast and crew certainly did!”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

back to the list of reviews

This review has been read 276 times


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © keith morris / red snapper web designs /