mon 22/07/2024

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre review - uncomfortable play tackles disability discrimination | reviews, news & interviews

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre review - uncomfortable play tackles disability discrimination

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre review - uncomfortable play tackles disability discrimination

Athena Stevens confronts the challenges faced by wheelchair-users

Athena Stevens: months of campaigning on Twitter and YouTube

Scrounger is no comfortable evening in the theatre, for reasons both intentional and inadvertent. Athena Stevens’ new play recounts her 2016 battle with British Airways and London City Airport, who subjected her to the humiliation of being taken off a flight to Edinburgh because they couldn’t fit her c

ustom-built electric wheelchair into the hold. Injury was added to insult when in the process of trying to cram the wheelchair into the plane, it was irreparably damaged. And all this happened despite the fact that Stevens had given them its dimensions well in advance. 

In the absence of compensation for the cancelled flight and a replacement wheelchair, Stevens embarked on months of campaigning on Twitter and YouTube. She garnered over 50,000 signatures on a petition and resorted to Kafkaesque EU law before winning some kind of reparation. Quite what that satisfaction entailed is obscured by the fact that she signed a non-disclosure agreement, which somewhat defuses the narrative flow. 

Performed as a two-hander by the playwright herself, who has athetoid cerebral palsy, this is a bitter and intermittently funny piece of theatre. It is also something of an endurance test. Scrounger runs at 90 minutes with no interval on a small stage with little décor but imaginatively deployed lighting and sound effects. 

Some of Stevens’ best lines are lost in the rapid fire exchanges with Leigh Quinn, who plays multiple supporting characters. There’s a nameless boyfriend whose help seems to consist of running marathons for other people’s causes, a useless best friend, patronising airport staff and oxymoronic Customer Care representatives. While we get a very good sense of the forceful individual that Stephens has become over years of fighting for her rights, she’s less good at avoiding clichéd and patronising stereotypes in her characterisation of a superstitious Nigerian taxi driver and a shyster Italian lawyer.

Stevens book-ends her play with a direct address to the audience in the tiny venue. She seems to assume that they are all woolly liberals, who have come along to see her play in order to feel virtuous about their support for people with disabilities. But there’s no expectation that anyone watching might have had first-hand experience of the discrimination she’s faced. An effort to broaden out her experience with musings about another wheelchair-user she observes from her window, doesn’t quite convince. Scrounger has the makings of a powerful piece, but it feels here like a work in progress rather than a finished play. 

It's a bitter and intermittently funny piece of theatre


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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