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Psychedelic musical returns to rock senses and open minds on UK-wide tour

In March 1977, news broke of an undercover police operation. It led to the greatest drug bust in history. In sleepy West Wales…..it was called Operation Julie.

Selling out an initial run, and back by popular demand, Operation Julie is taking this unique retelling of one of Wales’ greatest stories to more people in more places than ever across the UK.

Almost fifty years ago, a colossal police investigation involving 11 police forces invaded the rural Welsh countryside and resulted in more than a hundred arrests across Europe, over a century of jailtime and the discovery of over half a billion pounds of LSD. It took out almost 60% of the world’s LSD supply in the middle of its 70s heyday.

It captured the world. Retelling it from both sides of the drug divide, Theatr Na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre are delighted to take this local story that went global to theatres across the UK on a limited six week run, driven by demand following the sell-out of its debut run in the summer of 2022.

As well as delivering the massive police team effort that led to Operation Julie’s success following a chance clue uncovered at a fatal accident in Powys, this musical play also tells the story of the hippies who settled in West Wales in the mid-70s searching for a new way of living fuelled by acid and alternative attitude.

Among the main protagonists are roguish dealer Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes, based in Llanddewi Brefi and Christine Bott and Richard Kemp who found a way of making the purest LSD ever known. Richard was in the game to change the world. A world that unfortunately, half a century later, has yet to change despite the climate’s repeated warnings. Soaring temperatures, rising seas and polluted clouds run through the storytelling, supported by imagery from Greenpeace’s archive, such is the buy-in into the story that Operation Julie: The Musical has to tell.

Speaking today, Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes 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.. 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,” Smiles hopes the play reflects the seriousness of the cause of that time and its relevance today, but also the joy of living through an exhilarating period: “It was wonderful. We had so much fun, you can’t believe it!”

The show is deeply placed within its 70s setting. Costumes, sets and most importantly, music, grabs the audience by the collar and hoists them back into a world of psychedelic rock and heavy metal. Flooding the ears with giants of the time such as Hendrix and Hawkwind, but also the some of the key players on the Welsh rock scene, like psychedelic rockers Man and heavy metal pioneers Budgie. To some, the Operation Julie soundtrack has been an education in itself.

Greg Palmer, Operation Julie’s Musical Director, 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, Hawkwind, Incredible String Band. I’ve been very keen from the beginning of the process to have the sound world of the play reflect those musical trends, including great Welsh bands of the time Budgie and Man.”

The Operation Julie story will be making an emotional return to Swindon, a town crucial to the story as the location chosen to hold many of the acid dealers including Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes following his arrest as part of the huge raid which drastically affected the LSD drug trade not only in Wales and the UK but across the entire globe.

Geinor Styles, Theatr Na nÓg Artistic Director said: “It’s an incredible opportunity for us, a small Welsh company nestled in South West Wales to share this extraordinary story with audiences beyond our borders. Although its roots are in Wales, this wonderful theatrical experience aims to reach out across the world  – a little like the acid did at the time!”

  • Aberystwyth Arts Centre: 3rd- 13th April 2024
  • The Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre, Newport: 17th- 20th April 2024
  • The Lyric, Carmarthen: 24th- 27th April 2024
  • Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon: 1st- 4th May 2024
  • Wyverne Theatre, Swindon: 9th-11th May 2024
  • Pontio, Bangor: 15th- 18th May 2024
  • Crewe Lyceum Theatre: 22nd- 25th May 2024

Operation Julie will run at the following venues across the UK. Ticket information for all venues can be found at theatr-nanog.co.uk/operation-julie