BWW Review: SCROUNGER, Finborough Theatre
It was 2015 when Athena Stevens was forced out of a flight to Glasgow due to her disability. Upon the return of her £30,000 wheelchair, she found that the airline company had severely damaged the machine - and they were being most flippant about it. A social media war ensued, and Stevens ended up signing an NDA and settling the case months after being left with no means of autonomous mobility. Scrounger packages this disastrous event in a chirpy yet feeble comedy that becomes the opportunity for her to detail the endless systematic discrimination she faces daily.
Lily McLeish directs, while Leigh Quinn accompanies Stevens's Scrounger through the online and public court epic. Julian Starr's sound design accentuates the precise script, highlighting the tonal shifts and animating the atmosphere. The background music turns into a soundtrack to dark situational comedy followed by loud silences when Stevens aims for the jugular with a straight-shooting political touch. She takes no prisoners as she calls out "woke culture" and the well-meaning people who actually get it very wrong and refuse to acknowledge it.
Her address is human and personal, detailing her everyday issues with wit and fire, but it grows garrulous at length. The 90 minutes plod along even with Quinn's waltzing eagerly through a collection of quirky characters (though her prowess and humour still don't condone the classically offensive take on an Italian character). She adds colour and speed to an otherwise rightfully static play, but doesn't succeed in saving it from its lack of comic timing in the long run.
Passionate storytelling takes over and political criticism comes through at the expense of a consistent pace. McLeish's direction is energetic as she sets off Quinn's tour de force, who runs in an acting extravaganza that settles in stark contrast with Stevens's approach. Anna Reid's set design works on multiple levels and is a practical and imaginative depiction of the constrictions of Scrounger's life, while Anthony Doran lights up her neutral colour scheme with vibrant neons.
While Scrounger isn't exactly a perfect production, it is a notable step ahead in terms of representation and the tackling of a major issue. It's Scrounger's most vulnerable moments that reveal the heart of the matter, while the pedantic attitude of the character provokes a larger reflection on the perception of disability. It's a piece of theatre that opens up an internal string of mea culpa in the audience; and perhaps the reassessment of privilege and reevaluation of conflict avoidance that it instigates will reach the pub downstairs, which has turned its disabled toilet into a kitchen.
Image courtesy of Lily McLeish