Scrounger by Athena Stevens. The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 to 1 February 2020. 4 ****. Willliam Russell.

By Athena Stevens
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SE10 9ED to 1 February 2020.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.

TICKETS: 01223 357 851
Review: William Russell 10 January.

A devastating kick in the teeth to liberal minded charity marathon running politically left wing inclined Guardian readers, British Airways and badly drafted well intentioned but useless European Union legislation is delivered by Athena Stevens in this play based on what happened when her wheel chair was destroyed by airport staff were attempting to get it into the luggage hold. A stimulating, challenging evening it makes an admirable opening to the theatre’s fortieth season although it has its occasional longeurs and Athena Stevens who plays Scrounger is not always easy to understand. She is beguiling, but because she suffers from athetoid cerebral palsy is not always easy to understand and this does, brave though she is to take centre stage in what is basically a two hander play, make trying to grasp the meaning of what she is saying difficult at times. Surtitles have been used elsewhere and they would help. Using an able bodied actor pretending to be disabled is not the answer and seeing her cope with the difficulties of life make the story being told all the more powerful. It does not end with the needed clarity but one only finds out on reading the introduction to the text that she signed a non-disclosure agreement when her fight for justice ended which inhibits her revealing the outcome. What we get told is all in the public domain, but it is not really enough.
In 2015 she took a flight from London City Airport with BA to Glasgow and although she had told the airline beforehand that she would be bringing her wheelchair when she turned up it proved too big to go in the hold and was so damaged by the baggage staff trying to get it in that it was rendered unusuable. She was taken off the flight and spent several months confined to her home because she had no wheelchair while everyone concerned refused to accept any responsibility. Her boyfriend helped, on line petitions were launched, like minded persons signed them, friends who ran charity marathons for good causes made sympathetic noises, and the bureaucracy of the airlines, the airport and Brussels dodged the issue. It is a terrific polemic.
Stevens sits centre stage to tell the tale while Leigh Quinn – brought on first as an apparent latecomer and made to sit on a chair at the side of the set – and described in the programme only as P.A. plays all the people involved in Scrounger’s story. Quinn is very funny and her friendly BA staff and that marathon running for Syrian kids fleeing Assad – or whatever – friend are clearly drawn from life. I was less sure about the Italian Eurocrat who came to Scrounger’s aid as that was far more of a cliché spaghetti eating one cornetto figure, but the yoga practising boyfriend is a joy as he urges Scrounger to inhale the future and exhale the past.
A couple of times the fourth wall gets shattered and Scrounger confronts the audience directly which, in her words, for the Guardian reading, Daily Mail hating, Oxfam giving, colour blind seeing, red voting, conflict avoiding, zen loving, feminist supporting, always for the few, liberal minded persons seated in front of her made for an uncomfortable experience. But theatre is not necessarily about comfortable experiences and this experience directed with resource by Lily McLeish receiving its world premier is undeniably rewarding.

Scrounger: Athena Stevens.
P.A. : Leigh Quinn.

Director: Lily McLeish.
Designer: Anna Reid.
Lighting: Anthny Doran.
Sound: Julian Starr.
Production Photograph: Nick Rutter.

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