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Review of Wonder Drug at Omnibus Theatre

It’s a detailed story, though Charlie Merriman controls his own narrative, and like many single-person shows, everything is from one perspective. One wonders what the other people in the show – the significant other, Sara, and a Dr Ukor, Merriman’s hospital consultant – thought about him and his approach to life. Subtitled ‘A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis’, it gives the feel of having different viewpoints, but this is achieved by personifying the various medications and treatments he undergoes over time. In some ways, it’s schoolboy humour, but the audience nonetheless learns which ones work aggressively (and, for Merriman, too aggressively) and which are ineffective, and so on.

Charlie Merriman performing his play Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis
Charlie Merriman performing his play Wonder Drug: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis. Photo by Anna Watson.

Given the timeline of the story, there’s no escaping the lockdowns, and those Downing Street press briefings. ‘CF’, as cystic fibrosis is often referred to, is an inherited condition. The lungs contain thick mucus, and so treatment is largely focused on clearing mucus from the lungs, including medicines that thin the mucus in the lungs, therefore making it easier to cough up. Kaftrio, a new drug (the wonder drug of the show’s title), substantially improves ‘lung function’, which Merriman explains beautifully – in short, it is easier to breathe.

But his journey is a bumpy one, and maybe a bumpy one still, if only because the long-term side effects of this new drug are, by definition, yet to be discovered. Self-administering intravenous drips, needed for reasons explained in the narrative, required significant effort, in part due to the sheer frequency of them, though these themselves presented complications of their own, which in turn led to an alternative course of treatment. And so Merriman tries to carry on as best he can, but this never felt like a ‘woe is me’ tale.

Some chart music tunes, mostly if not entirely from the Eighties, are reworded to suit the storyline, and a scene portraying life in lockdown is boring and repetitive, but it works, because life in lockdown was boring and repetitive. After every outpatient appointment, Merriman was asked if he would like to see a psychologist – rather than the cystic fibrosis team assuming there was something wrong in that department, it appeared to be a question asked of every patient at every appointment – it was a while before he said ‘yes’. It was a small but important part of Merriman’s story, and the holistic approach taken by the healthcare team to consider mental health as well as physical health is to be commended.

It wasn’t exactly difficult to work out when any particular scene was set – a sign, reading, for instance, ‘June 2020’, in huge block capitals, left no room for ambiguity. Despite the extensive use of medical terminology and names of antibiotics, tablets and other treatments (none of which, Kaftrio aside, I could possibly regurgitate here even I wanted to) I wasn’t confused or struggling to follow what was going on. With a touch of absurdism, the show does well to make its audiences feel grateful to be alive, a message worth spreading in a world with so many problems and imponderables. All that running around between various props placed at opposite ends of the stage is a tad exhausting to watch. But it’s also evidence that the wonder drug really works. An encouraging and forthright production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Join Charlie Merriman for a rollicking course of intravenous antibiotics set to 80s bangers! Come meet the bugs Charlie’s had and the drugs that treat them as he takes a fresh look at the relationship between physical and mental health.

Will the government follow their own lockdown guidelines? Spoiler: no. Will Charlie resist the thrill of daytime TV? Spoiler: no. And will the dashing new Wonder Drug save the day? No spoilers.

WONDER DRUG: A COMEDY ABOUT CYSTIC FIBROSIS
PRESENTED BY CHARLIE MERRIMAN
A rollicking course of intravenous antibiotics set to 80s bangers!
17-18 JULY 2023
https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/

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