Theatre

The Wizard of Booze: How a pantomime is helping people overcoming addiction this Christmas

This Christmas pantomime is helping people recovering from addiction to feel like “part of the world again”

The cast of "The Wizard of Booze" Panto. Image credit: Creative Change Collective.

The Wizard of Booze isn’t your average pantomime.

Yes, it’s got festive jokes, punning characters and silly sketches. But the Glasgow show is also changing lives – and helping people recovering from addiction to feel like “part of the world again”.

The cast are graduates of a 16-week program run by the charity Creative Change Collective. They’ve devised the show – a mixture of monologues, skits and spoken word – around their own experiences with substance misuse.

“When I’m describing the work to someone who isn’t familiar with it, I usually say it’s like drama therapy for people who don’t necessarily have any interest in drama or therapy,” explains project director Mark MacNicol.

“But they do have an interest in doing something that is going to have a positive impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing.”

Creative Change Collective uses a unique “anonymous drama model”. Participants speak to one another about their experiences, but no one reveals which parts of the stories they choose to tell are fictional and which parts are based on real life.

“For example, a participant might want to talk about their mum’s alcoholism. But the delivery team would direct them to talk about a fictional character’s mum’s alcoholism,” says MacNicol.

“The anonymity protocols create a less emotionally charged and triggering environment. Using fiction and improvisations is safer and can be incredibly liberating for people.”

CCC deliver sessions in both residential and community rehab groups across Scotland, as well as programs for people in or at risk of entering the justice system. Elsewhere in the UK anonymous drama programs are facilitated by 4UM theatre. The organisation’s motto is a quote by German playwright Bertold Brecht: “Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world but a hammer with which to shape it.”

For participants, the program certainly can be “life-changing”.

“We’re not naive – we know it’s not a silver bullet,” says MacNicol. “But people report really, really positive outcomes.”

Janice – one of the cast in Wizard of Booze – echoes this sentiment. “You learn so much. I go home happy,” she said. “It’s painful to recover on your own but joining this group I feel part of the world again.”

The mood in the rehearsal room is positive, but the stakes are high. In 2022, more than 4,000 people in the UK died from an avoidable drug overdose.

MacNicol knows this type of tragedy intimately – he lost his own brother Jason to a heroin overdose.

“I did my best to help him, and I was unsuccessful. So being able to help people in recovery is very, very important to me,” the director explains.

“My brother lost his life, he lost his battle. Every year, hundreds of people all over the UK lose their lives. If this program can make a positive impact on even a few people… well then to say this is an obsession and a priority almost feels like an understatement.”

Bringing families together is one of the “more special” parts of running the programs.

“We quite frequently have situations where there may be audience members who, in some cases have not spoken to the person in our group for one, two or three years,” he said. “Their addiction has led to estrangement. But at these events, it’s quite common for family members to be reconciled.”

The Wizard of Booze will take place at Oran Mor on Wednesday (13 December). Tickets cost £5. They are currently sold out, but you can be put on the waiting list here.  

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