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The Six Wives of Timothy Leary review at Etcetera London

Philip de Gouveia’s play about the six wives of the controversial American psychologist Timothy Leary, who died in 1996, is a remarkable first achievement.

Most famous for advocating the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD, Leary was sentenced to 30 years in prison for possession of marijuana in 1966 (he later won his appeal), was again sent to prison in 1970, but escaped, married five times (the sixth in the title was his common law wife) and after he died, became one of the first people to have his remains sent into space.

And, in a play spanning the ages from the fifties to the nineties, his six wives each tell their story of what it was like being married to the man who coined the popular phrase, ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’.

Each woman recounts her story to people who cannot be seen or heard by the audience and how each of them goes about this reveals a great deal about their relationship with Leary.

Wife number one, Marianne (Hetty Abbott), tells her story to a guest at a party, his second wife Mary (Lisa Came) speaks to a journalist at a restaurant, his third wife Nena (Anna Brook) talks to a lover, his fourth wife Rosemary (Charlotte Donachie) addresses a rally, common law wife Joanna (Katharine Bennett-Fox) speaks to Leary when he is in prison and his last wife Barbara (Alison Baker) talks to his spirit at his funeral.

With so many different voices and experiences to be heard over a 40-year period, the play could easily have degenerated into confusion, but director Timothy Hughes keeps the story tight, giving each wife a distinct voice and look, each with her own mannerisms and ways of moving around the sparsely-designed stage, while snatches of music including jazz and rock’n’roll keep us informed of the era.

It takes very little time to become immersed in their stories and there is no weak link – each actress is totally in tune with her character, successfully managing to communicate the highs and lows of being married to Leary.

And it isn’t all heavy going – there are some lovely comic moments too, such as when Mary tries several times to get the attention of a waitress and Joanna asks Leary for a pen when she’s visiting him in prison.

In the programme it states the play is not intended to be a factual representation of the characters and events portrayed – and there’s a fair chunk of Leary’s life that isn’t really touched upon – but then, as the title suggests, the play is really about his six wives.

Production Information

Etcetera, London, November 20-December 9

Philip de Gouveia
Timothy Hughes
Weaver Hughes Ensemble
Hetty Abbott, Lisa Came, Anna Brook, Charlotte Donachie, Katharine Bennett-Fox, Alison Baker
Running time
1hr 20mins

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