The Incredible Doctor Guttman

New play telling the story of the man who pioneered the Paralympics.
Pegasus Theatre, Thu 15th - Fri November 16th 2012; and touring

November 16, 2012
Attending this summer’s Paralympics was the highlight of my year.  Despite not having any previous interest in any type of sport whatsoever, I found myself feeling inspired and marvelling at the athletes' skills and determination. So I was very excited to watch this show and find out more about Doctor Guttmann, the man behind the very first Paralympics Games held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital back in 1948.

The play charts Doctor Guttmann’s arrival from Germany at the hospital and his consequent unconventional approach to patients with spinal injuries, encouraging them to rebuild their lives, participate in activities, and eventually form the Paralympic team. As a member of the medical profession, I was fascinated to see how basic actions that are so common these days, such as prescribing penicillin or mobilising patients to prevent pressure sores, were controversial, and sources of heated debate at the time. More concerning was the attitude towards people with long-term paralysis: Doctor Guttmann thankfully changed this with his pioneering work.

We were given insight into the Doctor’s past- the inspiration behind his work - an encounter with a patient in his younger days when he was training as an orderly, plus some chilling accounts of his experiences in Nazi Germany. One particularly moving scene was when he recalled how he tried to save patients during the infamous Kristallnacht.  The detached relationship between Doctor Guttmann and his family is also shown. Alongside this, there is a sub-plot on the blossoming but tentative relationship between two of the patients.

The acting in this show is faultless. Nicholas Chambers brings a variety of guises to Doctor Guttmann, showing the different shades of the character; manipulative, charming, vulnerable, and most of all brilliant. It was refreshing to see a character with flaws, making this a more realistic account. Rosie Armstrong portrayed the stern yet soft-hearted lead nurse, Janet Maynard, a pivotal character in bringing the games to life. Andy Dear brought humour to the show in his role as the fun loving, optimistic patient and athlete Henry Collier. The scenes when he discussed his feelings about his condition were very moving; his desire for an ordinary, ‘boring’ life was quite humbling.

I did feel that there were some aspects which could have been explored further; for example, I would like to have seen more flashbacks to the Doctor’s past. It is also mentioned that he always felt like an ‘immigrant’ in England but this was not expanded upon as much as it could have been - more insight into his own thoughts and feelings would have been interesting.

In the final scene I felt like I was back at the Games in London - inspired, proud, and quite emotional! I would highly recommend this show; for the local connection, the acting, the writing, and for the important message about humanity and hope....and to get us all in the mood for Rio 2016! 
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