No Magic Pill – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review
Venue: Civic Theatre
Dates: 4 Oct. 8pm, 5-8 Oct. 8pm, 9 Oct. 3pm
“This is the (mostly) true story of Martin Naughton, AKA Michael Collins in a wheelchair”.
We meet Martin (Paddy Slattery) as a young boy when he first leaves his home in An Spidéal, in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He travels to the “Little Willie Hospital” or the Willie Nolan Centre in Baldoyle. Martin suffers from muscular dystrophy and this centre deals with people with a range of similar illnesses who are confined to a wheelchair. It was common at the time for disabled children to be moved away from their families. We see Martin’s life within this institution and later, his time spent battling for rights and equality of disabled people.
The stage is a raised platform with ramps on four sides. The cast members are largely wheelchair users, with four residents of the facility featuring (Sorcha Curley, Peter Kearns, Ferdia MacAonghusa, and Paddy Slattery). There are two cast members who are non-disabled (Mark Fitzgerald and Julie Sharkey), who play a range of characters such as Nuns, Ministers, Personal Assistants and Nurses who Martin encounters throughout his lifetime. One character that looms large over the play is Brendan (Mark Fitzgerald), a young man with muscular dystrophy who befriends Martin when he arrives. Brendan dies long before his time at 18, which affects Martin’s view of the world. Brendan’s dream of going to America becomes important to Martin, as a hope for the future.
The play is written by Christian O’Reilly, who is an award-winning playwright, having written works such as Sanctuary, The Good Father and Inside I’m Dancing. His plays have been produced by companies such as Druid and Rough Magic.
The play moves quickly through Martin’s life, giving us a brief impression of him at various stages in his life. We see moments of abuse in the institution but the plot never dwells on the one time for too long. The 85-minute run time is comparatively brief to encapsulate a life. The piece is also left quite open-ended as the main character continues his struggle for funding, and there is no natural denouement.
Often, we see slight variations of the same stories on our stages and screens, so when you see something different, it is always interesting. It is rare to see the story of a disabled man on stage and it does give you a new perspective on the world. As per the programme notes by Judy Heumann “The absence of disability in the media is a major problem. When stories are not told, people are not learning”. It is also rare to see disabled actors on stage, and it does add to the authenticity of the piece. This is the story of a man who refused to be ignored, fighting throughout his life for the rights of the disabled. It was important work and deserves to be remembered in this fashion.
No Magic Pill by Christian O’Reilly
Cast and Creative Team
Directed by Raymond Keane
Produced by Mitzi D’Alton and Christian O’Reilly
Dramaturg and Disability Consultant: Peter Kearns
Set Design: Ger Clancy
Assistant Set Designers: Eugenia Genuchi & Aidan Fox
Set Construction: Artfx Ltd
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Costume Design: Deirdre Dwyer
Music and Sound Design: Trevor Knight
Movement Director: Rachel Parry
Voice Coach: Andrea Ainsworth
Performed by Sorcha Curley, Mark Fitzgerald, Peter Kearns, Ferdia MacAonghusa, Julie Sharkey, Paddy Slattery