When you think of the term 'cystic fibrosis', I think we'd all agree that the condition is no laughing matter. However, for Charlie Merriman, he is coping with his daily life following his diagnosis in this honest and enlightening experience, with opportunities to add a touch of humour in too. In the lead up to the release of a new medical phenomenon named Kaftrio, dubbed a 'Wonder Drug', all he had to do, was stay healthy... in March 2020, and we all know what happened then.
Giving an enthusiastic entrance to his one-man show, the upbeat music is just the beginning of the array of 80s bangers we are treated to throughout the piece, often including some hilariously creative lyric changes. With the audience clapping along too, the show was proven to be instantly enjoyable. Including its injections of humour to contrast the generally serious theme, we follow part of Charlie's cystic fibrosis journey, as he shares both a personally emotional, and informative insight on the matter.
Shortly after beginning to film an ironically themed new 'plague' film, the world was thrown into its very own pandemic lockdown (full of overly excessive hand washing), and Charlie and his work wife- the newly discovered potential love of his life too- were reduced to Zoom dating. This allowed for a specific image to be painted for the vulnerabilities he was facing, particularly when diagnosed with an E.coli infection that threatened the chances of being healthy enough to try out the new cystic fibrosis drug when it arrived. It also caused thought for the self perceived baggage of having significant health issues, and having to figure out the right time to share this information.
With a selection of medical props scattered across the stage, the most notable was the glitzy screen partition, that was often used between scenes as transitional moments (best used perhaps for the sleeping part of the lockdown montage!). Other props included plushies to personify the various and plentiful medical terms mentioned, and many syringes to amplify the stresses of being plunged into the world of administering difficult medications: a strong link of the relationship between physical and mental health is common over the course of the show. A voiceover from a particular doctor is used to assist the narration of the story, and alongside this, there were timeline cards used to indicate the month of events, with the addition of some audience interaction ones to encourage responses to the goings on- big yay!
Charlie's personality is ironically infectious, and the production seems easy to engage with: as if hearing a story from a friend. The comedic timing in blend with cultural references- of pop, pandemic and political variety- shows thought in his writing, and the stark juxtaposition to the depth of the emotional flip side of the difficult times faced gives a rounded perception that incorporates a range of feelings for the audience. Any accidental mishaps were played off well, and actually added to the authenticity of the piece, appearing as a welcoming space.
Overall, Wonder Drug is a firm reminder that our health should not be taken for granted. It reveals the lucky position we are in if medical support isn't a constant need, but also provides bouts of hope and solidarity for those who do. It is hard hitting and beautifully uplifting in equal measure.