Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Is there anyone out there that still needs reminding that to rely on the state pension to give you a comfortable and secure retirement is a mug’s game? Thought not. Don’t play it.
The state pension and how to fund it is just one of a number of demographic land mines on which a future UK Government is certain to place its metaphorical foot. But Assessment, a new play by Robert Dawson Scott, foresees a dystopian solution in which dealing with this thorny problem has been outsourced to WellGov by the workshy Department for Work and Pensions.
And Alan McDonald is one thorny problem. It’s his birthday and, at 77, he has reached the life expectancy for an adult male living in Scotland. It’s all downhill from here. Reliant on a state pension that’s only good for a couple of pints and a dabble on the gee-gees, he’s been forced by impecunity to seek refuge with his daughter. To make matters worse, his arthritis is playing up again. If McDonald were one of those horses in which he invests his pension, he’d have been put down long ago. Cue Amrit Roy and Siobhan Clarke of aforesaid WellGov, who are about to make Alan an offer from the Pension Exchange Scheme that’s surely too good for him to refuse.
This well-researched and presented piece of theatre hits the issue squarely on the head. As fiscal units, older people are expensive. Very expensive. They are a drain on the economy. And it’s not just the state pension, which sucks £100 billion each year from Treasury coffers. The NHS would require a quarter of its current funding if it weren’t for the demands placed on it by those living out their final weeks and months.
Then there’s the housing benefit, income support and pension credits handed out. And it’s all going to get worse as we approach the mid-point of the current century. What, therefore, could be simpler? Surely any rationally thinking, selfless citizen would do the honourable thing?
It’s a pretty stark message, another excellent example of how new writing and theatre in general can address, concisely and with objectivity, an issue pertinent to all in our society. Strong performances from Karen Bartke as Karen Baird, McDonald’s daughter and Taqi Nazeer as the pushy, on message WellGov exploiter Amrit Roy, underpinned the show. Selina Boyack supported convincingly as the WellGov enforcer, full of corporate speak and clichés. And Stephen Clyde as Alan McDonald moved and sounded like someone at the end of their eighth decade, although greying up his luxuriant hair didn’t really work.
The script itself was alternately dark, bitter sweet, ironic, acerbic and just plain funny – Scots patois is full of words that describe prosaic functions in a way that can’t help but make you laugh. And the set was simple enough, redolent of the straitened times in which the two central characters, McDonald and his daughter, find themselves.
The denouement was as chilling as it was poignant, leaving questions unanswered, issues lying unresolved, dubiety in the air. But the equally chilling reality is that, if we do nothing, life may come to imitate this fine piece of art.