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No Magic Pill review: A gutsy play that doesn’t make nice about disability

Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: The fight for normal life for ‘poor unfortunate gobshites’

No Magic Pill

Civic Theatre

There are a number of tensions within Christian O’Reilly’s gutsy and engaging new play, inspired by the life of Martin Naughton, the disability-justice campaigner and bolshie advocate for game-changing supports such as making houses and public transport “that everyone can use”.

There’s the tension between those with different disabilities, the Muskies (with muscular dystrophy) and the Pugs (“the poor unfortunate gobshites”, or “one of them spastic lads”, with cerebral palsy), and their differing needs and prospects. Not to mention the “SuperCrips, the acquired-injury fuckers”, overachievers who make everyone else look bad, and like “cripples with chips on our shoulder”.

This play does not make nice about disability. One of the first of many laughs-out-loud comes when Dermot, a Pug played by Peter Kearns, No Magic Pill’s dramaturge and disability consultant, does a physical joke about “Christy Brown having a wank”.

There’s tension around the dilemma that Martin (Paddy Slattery), a Muskie, faces, of whether to stay and fight for normal lives through the Centre for Independent Living he founded or to follow his own American dream with his friend and personal assistant, Josie (Julie Sharkey), whose relationship is authentically portrayed. Those tensions within are personified by his interplay with his friend Brendan (Mark Fitzgerald).


Different approaches to disability create tension. At St Mary’s in Baldoyle, where nine-year-old Martin is sent from his home in Spiddal, using a wheelchair is seen as personal failure, a matter of shame, because treatment isn’t working. (“We are bad PR – poxy rejects.”) Against that we watch Martin develop his stroppy self in Slattery’s excellent portrayal of growing awareness, strength and warmth.

Actors with disabilities, some in wheelchairs, and more experienced actors without disabilities, also create a good tension during the performance. It’s unquestionably the right decision to have disabled actors play disabled characters. The casting makes an important point, but it also works: these are believable, powerful performances.

Raymond Keane, the production’s director, weaves all these tensions together, balancing meaty subjects in a physically striking, elegantly whirling performance, played out on Ger Clancy’s circus ring-like set, where ramps are intrinsic, not an added adaptation.

We learn much (such as: the difference between a carer and a personal assistant isn’t just semantics: “I need assistance, not care”). And we enjoy much, from the black humour to the righteous fight. As Ursula says: “If they’re not going to drown us at birth they have to let us live” real lives.

Runs at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, until Sunday, October 9th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times