Sat 16th – Sun 17th August 2014


Kate Wilkinson

at 09:08 on 17th Aug 2014



Scroungers, a physical theatre piece about benefits culture, crams more social issues into its fifty minutes than I thought possible. We hear about child abuse, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy and alcoholism, to name but a few. Unfortunately, the result is that the piece lacks any specific insight and can give none of the issues it presents treatment beyond the barest outline. The show's overriding message is an important if predictable one: that people who rely on benefits are excessively demonised and often surrounded by a range of circumstances outside of their control.

The female four-piece set their physical drama in a dystopian world inhabited by a sinister gas-masked figure and ‘The Company’ who control the lives of the four ‘scroungers’ with totalitarian authority. These elements are presumably intended to parallel or exaggerate modern government policy but are so vaguely written as to lack any discernible purpose beyond generic antagonism.

Lack of definition in subject matter extends to the sloppily written characterisations; one character repetitively mumbles, ‘It hurts! The pain!’… What hurts? What kind of pain? Another character seems to be defined purely by her desire to be ‘daddy’s little girl’. One of the more robust characterisations is the brief but touchingly portrayed story of a girl who meets an older man, becomes pregnant and ultimately has the baby taken away.

When faced with apparent condemnation from their family, ‘The Company’, or society as a whole, the characters often affirm that ‘they have no idea what I’ve been through’, but quite frankly neither do we. It is often rather difficult to feel genuine sympathy for the on-stage suffering.

The piece’s slick and well-chosen sound-track is one of the piece’s more successful elements and really holds it all together. It is comprised of a montage of news reports, snippets of audio from Jeremy Kyle, sinister voice-overs, and atmospheric music. At times, I could almost forgive the piece’s vague and abstract nature in the context of physical theatre. Dance-like movements lack the finesse of trained dancers but in some ways this is rather endearing and fits well with the rough-and-ready characters.

As it is a free show, the company ask for donations at the end. This is done in character and plays with the audience’s complicity with and prejudices towards benefits culture. I feel more could be made of addressing the audience in this direct way.The Nonsense Birds don’t quite live up to their name; there is certainly some sense to their performance. It just needs better definition and execution.


Flo Layer

at 09:52 on 17th Aug 2014



Scroungers tackles the hot topic of benefits and the welfare system following the tidal wave of controversy surrounding Channel 4’s Benefit’s Street. It's an interesting piece of physical theatre exploring a dystopian model of the welfare system.

In the world of Scroungers, the Government’s treatment of the benefits is recast as ‘The Company’, whose brutal and sadistic regime is designed to adjust and improve benefit claimers ready to be released for the ‘real world’.

With a majority female cast, the show explores specifically damaging situations for women - such as physical abuse, alcoholism, heroin addiction, social services and marriage breakdown - with incredible swiftness. This is not to say that these themes are not comprehensibly explored, but it often takes some guess work to realise what is going on. Yes, physical theatre can occasionally aid the delivery of ‘hard-hitting’ messages but in this case, it more often than not makes the stories a little too abstract to fully comprehend.

At times the choreography feels a little awkward and unnecessary, surplus to the dramatization of scenes. However, some rousing moments are fully realised through soundscape and the clever use of background music.

The only male member of the cast performs the part of the sadistic jailor on behalf of The Company. Wearing a wartime gas mask throughout, his heavy laboured breathing adds an eerie, somewhat disturbing dimension to the show without being overly intrusive.

It isn’t a show of all consuming doom and gloom; brief glimpses of acute observational humour, such as the forgotten words in a patriotic rendition of Rule Brittania, brilliantly brighten the otherwise intense mood.

Overall the casts’ movements and physical routines are well-rehearsed with some moments of impressive unity, and it is interesting to see how the cast use the limited space. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that the use of levels in the choreographed routines, moving from high to low to vary the action, is an attempt to tick another box on the ‘what makes an interesting and accomplished’ physical theatrical show.

It’s a shame when your main view of any lower action is inevitably blocked by the head of the audience member in front due to cramped seating. This is a show with great potential to further provoke discussion and debate, yet one which ultimately lacks that memorable sparkle to fully deliver with hard-hitting edge.


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