Charlie Merriman | Writer & Performer
Charlie graduated from LAMDA in 2018. He is excited to shine a light on not only cystic fibrosis itself but also the relationship between physical & mental health.
My immediate answer to the question 'What inspired you to create the play?' is Kaftrio. Kaftrio is the 'Wonder Drug' of the show’s title - a game-changing new medicine for cystic fibrosis rolled out in the UK mid-late 2020. In order to illustrate its benefits though, of course, first I have to go into a bit more detail about cystic fibrosis itself.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition that affects around 11,000 people in the UK, and around 100,000 people globally. It causes the gene that controls the movement of salt & water between cells not to work properly, leading to a build-up of thick, sticky mucus. This mucus is responsible for an array of challenging symptoms all over the body, especially in the lungs & digestive system. For example, I have to do chest physiotherapy to clear out some of this mucus & I have to take supplementary enzymes in pill form to digest food.
The new medicine Kaftrio helps to thin out the mucus. So, I used to do chest physiotherapy morning & evening, each time for about half an hour, but now I’m on the new medicine Kaftrio I do physio in the mornings only, and only for about five minutes. We often say 'If only I had an extra hour in the day' - I was literally given that, and it was a very humbling feeling. I also don’t need to take as many enzyme pills when I eat now as Kaftrio makes my body’s natural enzymes more effective.
On a broader scale, there’s been a significant reduction in hospitalisations for CF the world over since Kaftrio has come along, because it’s just harder for the bacteria that cause chest infections to settle in the thinner mucus of people with CF who take Kaftrio. 'Game-changing' really is what we’re dealing with here - however, around 20% of people with CF cannot take Kaftrio for various reasons, for example a genotype of CF that Kaftrio is not compatible with. The work continues to make sure that absolutely everyone with cystic fibrosis can have a new lease of life, and it’s this that made me want to write the play.
It can sometimes feel like we make charity donations into the unknown. I thought that making a show about the effect Kaftrio has had on my CF would be a welcome example of just what medical research can achieve, and therefore give people all the more reason to support the ongoing efforts to develop similar medicines for people with CF who cannot take Kaftrio. And of course, this message goes far beyond cystic fibrosis too.
Writing a show about Kaftrio presented plenty of other important opportunities in addition - one that I am particularly passionate about is showing that not all narratives about health have to be solemn. If Kaftrio was the seed from which the show grew, then what watered it was the following notion:
People are people first & foremost. Any other label, such as 'disabled', 'patient' or otherwise, is secondary to that.
There’s scope for silliness in the lives of absolutely everyone, sometimes even more so those who have chronic health conditions given the especially unusual daily routines etc we can have, and this is understandably forgotten all too often in the face of the more serious concerns. It’s time, though, to redress the balance, and remind ourselves that those of us with health conditions and/or disabilities aren’t really that ‘other’ from anyone else.