The Six Wives of Timothy Leary
This article is from 2008.
The Six Wives of Timothy Leary explores the 1960s counterculture icon from the perspective of the women who married him, as Alastair Mabbott discovers
Timothy Leary’s place in history has long been assured. A tireless proponent of LSD, he enhanced his notoriety with a daring prison escape and life as a fugitive before recovering some of his glory in the techno-pagan 90s.
Hollywood writers have struggled in vain to bring his story to audiences. Perhaps Leary was too multi-faceted to be portrayed on stage or screen. But that very problem seems to have been the key to the success of The Six Wives of Timothy Leary. Written by first-time playwright Philip de Gouveia, the play shows the acid guru at different points in his life from the perspectives of the six women he married.
While the Leary each one remembers is quite different, there were consistencies running through his life, as de Gouveia explains. ‘On the one hand, he was very charismatic and he loved people. He really wanted to achieve and to be significant. At the same time as he was preaching the death of ego – and genuinely loving people and sort of trying to be altruistic in what he did – he was also incredibly egotistical, very selfish and treated a lot of the people around him quite badly.’
‘These women were defined by Timothy Leary, but he actually enabled them as well,’ adds director Timothy Hughes. ‘They were thinkers in their own right: strong, independent women who were then attracted to the Leary way of being.’
The play touches on the complexities of a man whose father left home when Leary was 11, and whose overbearing mother had huge expectations of her son. It also shows the surviving wives learning from their experiences and moving on. More important than why Leary couldn’t sustain relationships, says de Gouviea, is ‘how you can be in love and also why love can fail. But why it’s so important to keep looking.’
The Six Wives of Timothy Leary, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, 3–24 Aug (not 11, 19), 5pm, £8–£9 (£6.50–£7.50). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £5.