It’s a fitting true story that might make Sir Ludwig smile, because this weekend’s world premiere of The Incredible Dr Guttmann required its determined producer to risk everything to tell the story.
Karen Simpson had the idea for the show three years ago, but the project was shelved by the Oxfordshire Theatre Company because of cuts in the Arts Council’s budget.
But rather than letting the project die, she moved back in with her parents in Sheffield, created her own production company and pounded doors looking for funding.
“I knew it would be fascinating story,” she said. “A lot of people at the early stages didn’t know who I was talking about. But I felt it was worth pursuing, I kept beavering away.”
The 55 year old finally got the money to create the show in April – thanks to support from Aylesbury Vale District Council, Bucks County Council and the Arts Council.
And her faith has so far been rewarded, with Aylesbury Waterside Theatre sold out for Saturday’s premiere and the second showing on Sunday. The production will now tour villages across the Vale, starting in Stoke Mandeville next week.
The play, which tells the story of how Guttmann created the Paralympics whilst working at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, focuses on the years 1940-1948.
It includes 40’s-style music which was specially written for the show, and switches between his work at the hospital and life in Germany.
“The play opens some of those echoes of his past and it gives a full picture of him and what drove him and why he was so driven,” said Karen.
The play charts his life as a Jewish refugee, who as doctor in Germany would come into regular contact with the Nazis and once had to operate on a senior member of the party.
Also his efforts to stop Jews from being murdered or arrested during Kristallnacht in 1938, when Hitler’s men attacked or murdered 30,000 Jews.
“Those experiences explain why he was prepared to fight the establishment, said Karen.”
Nicholas Chambers, 39, who plays Guttmann, said: “Everybody has a different view of him.
“The people that worked with him say he was a tyrant. But the patients loved him and the most important thing to me is to get both sides across.
“Not to play him as bad or a good guy. Trying to capture his personality, he was a tour-de-force, an eccentric personality who spoke his mind.”
The show’s cast of five, includes former Team GB wheelchair basketball player turned actor Andy Dear. Also Holly Ridley, 22, from Aylesbury who plays one of Guttmann’s two patients who fall in love.
In her research, Karen found that many of his patients married each other or staff members and so decided to include a love story in the play.