Sell-out psychedelic stage musical heading for Wyvern Theatre

By Barrie Hudson - 25 January 2024

Arts and Culture

Hit musical Operation Julie comes to Swindon's Wyvern Theatre from May 9 to 11.

Over four decades ago, rural West Wales was at the centre of the greatest drugs bust in history when a police investigation, Operation Julie, resulted in dozens of arrests and the discovery of LSD worth £100 million. 

The hit musical play from Theatr na nO´g and Aberystwyth Arts Centre explores the story from both sides of the drugs divide – the police and the hippies who settled in West Wales hoping to spread their ideals in a changing world.

The co-producers have announced that many of the cast will return to reprise their roles, with Dan Bottomley joining the cast in portraying Alston 'Smiles' Hughes for a limited eight-week run visiting theatres across the country.

A spokesperson said: "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 works with detectives from across Britain to uncover what turns out to be the biggest stash of acid ever found, taking out up to 60 percent 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 nO´g and Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s version of events tells the story from both sides of the law, with writer and director Geinor Styles 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 cottage in Llanddewi Brefi – and Anne Parry, the wife of the late Detective Sergeant Richie Parry.

"Operation Julie is a musical play, a format favoured by the theatre company that, according to an audience member, never fails to impress."

Musical Director Greg Palmer said: “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.”

Speaking now, Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes said: “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.”

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

"An audience knows what it is doing. If it stands in a collective expression of uninhibited joy, it is a response that happens for a reason. The company has made it happen.”

Further information about the Swindon performances, including booking details, can be found at

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