Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Informative, fun and ‘funky’, with one heck of a playlist, this was an enjoyable story told by a charming and engaging performer. Be prepared to learn more than you thought you knew about Cystic Fibrosis, and leave wanting to know more – while hoping that Wonder Drug lives up to its name.
Entering The Pleasance Upstairs venue, we’re greeted by a smiling, personable fellow with a QR Code. The first thing we’re told, is if we scan the code, we’ll receive a digital program to the show. First recommendation – do this, it links to a wonderful resource you’ll want to look at later.
While charming and disarming – the smile doesn’t give way to the truth. That is, Charlie Merriman has Cystic Fibrosis and has no-idea what’s coming next.
The name of the show – WONDER DRUG: A Comedy About Cystic Fibrosis – does not actually give away the full story. Well, not entirely. The show is in fact a 60-minute TED Talk/sketch comedy/monologue/puppet show. Merriman has Cystic Fibrosis and is forced to live a daily regimen of medication to help him breath, digest food and be able to function in the world. But he’s surviving and has even met someone – Sarah. That is, until COVID hits and he must self-isolate in order to keep himself not only well enough to live but be eligible for the Wonder-Drug – Kaftrio. Promising to be a be the cure he’s looking for, he just needs to stay healthy enough to receive it, which should be easy given lockdown…. or so Charlie thinks. That is until he develops E coli and must enter a self-administered regiment to try and kill the bug before it renders him eligible for the drug and also ruins his chances with Sarah.
The show is written with no holds barred – we hear all the names of the medical terms bacteria, medications, medical paraphernalia and all. Cleverly, the story is told with a number of aids, with puppets and voice overs explaining some of the more complicated terminology and providing visual aids as cues. This works exceptionally well form the most part, and informs the audience as well as entertains them; Merriman even manages to find a word to rhyme with Alveoli!
No part of the space on the stage is wasted, with a myriad of props, story aids, cue cards putting dates to timelines and a medical ‘curtain’, which serves to switch the action from home to doctor office or hospital amongst others. Even his choice of ‘80’s Bangers’ and medical voice over serve to help shift the piece along and highlight crucial emotion or plot points.
There were times where the props felt a bit more like clutter, and some parts a little repetitive and a bit too long. While undoubtedly representative of the nature of lockdown, I would have instead liked to see a bit more of the relationship with Sarah which felt slightly underdeveloped.
Charlie Merriman is a gifted performer and storyteller, with every part of him used to take us on his quest for the Wonder-Drug. As we learn where his life has taken him, the genuine emotion and joy that comes from within is very much exposed and there for the audience to see.
Spend an hour learning about CF and clap along while doing so. You won’t be disappointed.