Art by Serkan Özbay
As a reviewer I enjoy seeing theatre works in their earlier stages, in rehearsal, maybe the tensions of the dress rehearsal or even the workshops at the start. But it is a first for me to be asked to review a script, and I am glad I was.
‘Scrounge’ is a work based on real conversations between disabled people and assessors, doctors and members of the public. It is not an easy read, and would be a powerful and hard hitting play on stage. The play will be available from 10th January 2022. Please go to www.amiemarie.co.uk to find out more about Amie’s work.
The play has twelve characters but focuses on the lives of three women. Abby has just got a new job as a PIP assessor, and really needs the work after being saddled with big debts by a previous partner. Her friend Hannah works part time and casually to enable her to look after her increasingly disabled mum Carol, who struggles to cope at all on her own.
Abby clashes with her employer, who repeatedly reminds her that the PIP assessor interviews have a target of 80% rejection of all claims made, and her earnings depend on exceeding this target. He drives her to forget all her humanity and concentrate on the task set in this privatised world to seek to separate as many disabled people as possible from their benefit rights.
We meet Carol trying to put up Christmas decorations, even though it is early November, and we soon share her despair at the hopelessness of her situation without care and support. Hannah helps where and when she can, sacrificing her own life to care for her mum. Inevitably the call comes summoning her to a PIP assessment, where she has an appointment with the centre’s newest recruit.
We listen in to a couple of other interviews that Abby carries out as she learns the requirements of her employing company. Each is a vignette of despair.
There are a number of staging devices that the writer uses to give context to the plot. It is hard to say whether these would enhance or distract from the plot without seeing what a director would make of them, but included are an ethereal figure called Dino who appears to offer a kind of spiritual commentary on proceedings, a few lines from one of the most loathsome of current cabinet ministers (these lines may not survive the theatre lawyer’s input, I fear) and a fair amount of breaking the fourth wall. This can work very well on film or TV but is hard to get right live on stage, although again it can be an effective device.
I wish I could say that the basic premise of this play is incorrect, but I know from friends and colleagues who have had to endure PIP assessments that it is rather too true to life. After decades of slow social progress in this country we now have a government that thinks it OK to victimise disabled people and portray them as fraudulent, a shocking state of affairs. The dialogue is spare, effective and very well written with clear and quick character development.
I would certainly be pleased to see this script brought to life on stage just exactly as it is written now. I would quite like to tie a few selfish MPs to some seats and make them listen to the effect of their heartlessness on real people, real lives. We all know a Carol, an Abby, a Hannah and we owe them a bigger voice than they can expect currently and that is just what Amie M Marie has achieved with this fine script.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 14 December 2021