There is a saying: “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes.” Or with their wheelchair for their matter. Or their disability. Not that these things should define a person or their worth. But in today’s society there is a big difference between awareness of the disabled and recognition of their needs – the means that provides self-sufficiency and a modicum of dignity…
Written and performed by Athena Stevens, Scrounger is based on true events – one woman’s struggle to hold an airline to account for damaging her wheelchair. As someone who has athetoid cerebral palsy (which affects muscle tone, mobility and speech), Stevens has needed a specialised wheelchair for her condition – not something that can be picked up at any hospital. Without this facilitator of mobility, Stevens is housebound, a prisoner in her own home.
Scrounger could very easily be a dour, humourless show. However, Stevens own response to the absurdity of the situation that she finds herself is witty, astute and in hindsight, objectively sees how specifics in her life could be interpreted as funny. As part of her self-deprecating sense of humour, Stevens herself is refered to throughout the play as ‘Ms Scounger’ – a wry reference to the way the disabled are often demomised by the status quo.
While the ‘wheelchair incident’ is the ‘McGuffin’ that drives the plot, Scrounger is really about the dissonance between people’s thinking and people behaviour. Playing all the other roles in the show, Leigh Quinn seamlessly switches between playing passive-aggressive airline staff, Scrounger’s dutiful boyfriend and best friend Emma who hails from north London.
While Scrounger has to contend with repetitious comments from unhelpful people in everyday life, even having a ‘perfect’ boyfriend (who says and does all the right things) can be wearing, reminding Stevens to always be positive. But surely everyone is allowed to feel frustrated at times, to feel everything… It is, however, through the character of Emma that we’re challenged the most. Conforming to the stereotype – of the liberal, Guardian reading, “woke” generation who cares about all manner of people overseas – Emma is oblivious to how their time and company would be valued closer to home. She can make the time to run marathons for people she’s never met, but venturing “south of the river” is a trek too far…
Scrounger could very easily be a didactic play, but the actions of the respective characters speak for themselves, leaving the audience to deduce how absurd – yet true to life – such events or behaviour are. Much like a Restoration comedy, the public will recognise many of the things that occur in the play, satirising the status quo yet making serious points about society.
© Michael Davis 2020
Scrounger runs at Finborough Theatre until 1st February.