Concordia Winter 2023

Photo: Anna Watson

WONDER DRUG: A Comedy about Cystic Fibrosis After taking a new drug for cystic fibrosis, Charlie Merriman (2006-2011) decided to write a show about the condition. After performing WONDER DRUG at small theatres in London, Charlie took the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where he won five-star reviews and an award nomination.


I t had been in the back of my mind for years to write something about my medical condition, cystic fibrosis (CF). CF causes a build-up of mucus that affects the whole body, especially the lungs and digestive system, meaning I have to do daily chest physiotherapy, take pills to digest food, and so on. I wanted to change the fact that the condition is rarely portrayed. I also wanted to show that stories about health don’t have to be fundamentally solemn, as is so often the case: it’s dehumanising, foregrounding the symptoms rather than the person who has them, someone who experiences silliness in life just like anyone else. The time felt right at the start of 2022 to begin work on what would become WONDER DRUG: A Comedy about Cystic Fibrosis , my autobiographical debut one-man show. By this point I’d had a year’s experience of a new medicine for CF, Kaftrio, a daily pill that essentially “corrects” the faulty cystic fibrosis gene and the ‘Wonder Drug’ of the show’s title. Thanks to Kaftrio, my lung function is now even better than that of someone who doesn’t have cystic fibrosis; there’s been a significant reduction in CF hospitalisations the world over, and the outlook for increased life expectancy is promising. What an opportunity, I thought, to

shine a light on the miraculous things medical research achieves and inspire people to support such causes with renewed vigour – especially since, sadly, not everyone with CF can take Kaftrio. For the principal content of the play, I wrote about my own experience of shielding from COVID in 2020 right up to being put on Kaftrio in December that year. When the pandemic hit, I had just started seeing someone, and then I had to learn how to prepare and administer my own intravenous antibiotics at home in lockdown for an E. coli infection – all of this, especially the threat to my physical health, was in turn a challenge for my mental health. “Sounds hilarious”, I hear you say, and your sarcasm isn’t misplaced: a great deal of the humour came from how to translate these experiences to the stage. When I don’t want to tell my new girlfriend I have a worrying hospital appointment the next day, I ask the audience to suggest an excuse for what I’ll be doing instead (it’s ranged from having diarrhoea to auditioning to be the next James Bond); lockdown TV starts to infect the play with gameshow sequences, such as an X Factor esque singing competition between syringe puppets full of antibiotics vying for the audience’s

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