Scrounge by Amie M Marie— A Testament to Disability in Tory Britain (2022)

Amie M Marie is a queer and disabled writer, comedian, and performer, located in Norfolk. She has published her debut plays over the last year. The Play about Theresa May, published in Jan 2021 was a comedy about the idiotic duplicity of the ex-Prime Minister. The play Scrounge, published earlier this month, centres around a disabled mother, Carol and her daughter Hannah as they struggle through her PIP re-assessment. The play’s second narrative revolves around the journey of Hannah’s schoolfriend, Abby, into the indoctrination of employment as a PIP assessor.

Scrounge has already proven itself to be a powerful play. In its initial draft in 2018, it was nominated for the Snoo Wilson prize. Within only its first week of publication, it’s been announced that it is being adapted for stage and radio, with the radio adaptation due to be aired on BBC Radio Norfolk & Suffolk later this year.

I talked to Marie to ask about the creative process behind both her plays and see what she has planned for her next publications.

First, I asked her whether there was a natural throughline from writing The Play About Theresa May to Scrounge — as the depiction of May’s attitudes towards disability was one of the areas that the satire dropped in that earlier play.

‘‘I think the common thread between both plays are my morals of equity and fairness. In that play, the satire did tend to drop for certain topics — and I think that’s because they were more personal. There’s an understanding that live comedy can only be successful and get people on side with a genuine emotion & vulnerability or anger beneath it.’’ Amie M Marie

This tangible vulnerability comes from Marie’s lived experiences. She’s observed the PIP claims process as an advocate for friends and family — which influenced her decision not to put herself through the stress of a process she’s certain she’d be rejected by.

Marie said that she was drawn to creating a testament to and tangible record of protest against the treatment of disabled people in tory Britain. The dialogue for the assessment process is directly inspired by recordings from whistle-blowers who condemned the chaotic and unfair PIP application process.

Marie steered clear of calling the experience of writing the play Scrounge cathartic. Instead, she said that the process may have re-traumatised her in some ways. In fact, she said she had to start the writing process for Scrounge knowing that it wouldn’t be cathartic, because:

‘‘there are some people who will not be reached (by the play), the horror will continue via citizens who allow or enable it.’’

Scrounge provokes this feeling of ‘lost catharsis’ in its audience as well, with a deliberately abrupt and ambiguous ending, that increases the desperation of everything that came before.

The Techniques of Testament

While The Play About Theresa May used clowning techniques to create a lively political sature, the play Scrounge takes a naturalistic format.

Scrounge also plays with ideas from the theatre of the oppressed: implicating the audience as silent witnesses of and enablers to the ableist attitudes which paint disabled people as worthless ‘scroungers.’

Marie stated that the characters Carol and Hannah were created with a Brechtian influence. She was torn between creating recognisable archetypes that can show the scale of the problem and giving the characters the identity and respect that the benefits process seems designed to strip from disabled people. They’re interesting characters in themselves, but, when reading the play, I was struck by how often Carol’s dialogue sounded like it could have come straight from the mouths of people I know. This peice of direct address was particularly hearbreaking:

‘CAROL: I hate this. I hate having to write about it, having to admit. It’s depressing. I don’t want to focus on what I can’t do’[1]

Abby is another interesting character in the play. Marie said that Abby was the character she most struggled to write, because she felt compelled to give the Abby reasons for what she does, without wanting to make her too sympathetic. Marie said that writing Abby was a process of trying to confront her own hypocrisies — which resulted in the character developing more ambiguity than Marie was conscious of.

Marie’s original intention was to use Abby’s backstory — feeling forced into the job of PIP assessor to pay off the debts from a bad breakup — to contrast with the lives of Carol and Hannah, who have barely had any life or capital to lose. However, her mounting anxiety over the course of the play as well as certain narrative devices imply there’s more going on with Abby underneath the surface. If one reads Abby as a character with an unrecognised disability or mental illness herself, then she becomes a figure of internalised ableism who is systemically implicated to inflict her pain onto other disabled people.

Adapting Scrounge

With so many ambiguities in Scrounge’s script, it’s easy to see why it’s ripe for adaptation. Marie seemed excited to be involved in the development of both upcoming adaptations. She said she was particularly intrigued by how each format will allow her audience to experience the script.

Reading the book of the script allows readers to distance themselves from the material, pausing when they need to catch a breath, while the theatre and radio plays allow their audience to embody the experience of both the disabled protagonists, and their oppressors. In theatre, the audience will be held captive in their seats, while radio listeners will experience the torrent of the play’s despair right into their ears.

Marie’s also intrigued by the challenges of cutting a 90-minute play to only 40 minutes, transforming all the stage language to audible format.

With her classic candour, Marie says she’ll decide which of the adaptations is her favorite based on “whatever hurts (the audience) the most.” Scrounge doesn’t coddle able-bodied audience members. It’s a wake-up call that disabled people have known all too well.

What’s next?

Marie’s not just focused on adapting Scrounge. She’s also working on a topical play about the rhetoric and cult-like recruitment of anti-transgender campaigners. Alongside that, she’s been spending her time editing old drafts of her YA novels — moving from political theatre and barefaced dialogue to the gentler coming of age narratives she’s always wanted to write. Whatever she develops next, it’s sure to be worth waiting for.

The scripts of The Play About Theresa May and Scrounge are available to buy from retailers such as Amazon, Waterstones & Barnes and Noble. A free rehearsal of the play Scrounge with an integrated Q&A will be held on the 27th of January 2022 at the Drama Studio at the University of East Anglia at 7pm.

[1] Marie, Amie M, ‘Scrounge’, Mandells House Publishing, 2022

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Creative and content writer promoting inclusion & accessibility. Buy me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/loisarcari

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Lois Arcari

Lois Arcari

Creative and content writer promoting inclusion & accessibility. Buy me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/loisarcari

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