An ageing population poses a financial challenge for both families and the government these days. In this treat of a play by Robert Dawson Scott, Shows on a Shoestring proposes an entertaining – if unpalatable – solution to the cost of old age. The antidote to long life comes in the form of a scheme, devised by the tongue-in-cheek-named Well Gov, to combat the huge potential expenditure per old person which burdens the public purse. To press the point home, real statistics are woven into the play – and do genuinely astonish.
We fast find out that the advertised benefit to this scheme, a £30k payout, appeals to poor daughter Karen who dares to dream of a sunny holiday in Florida for her two sons. She sneakily arranges for her elderly live-in Dad Alan to sign up with Well Gov. When the small print comes to light her conscience pricks, but Alan, deftly portrayed by Stephen Clyde, finally calls her bluff to comic if sinister effect.
This is an hour of sheer entertainment – we are safely transported to the Macdonalds’ living room, drawn in by the unfolding dialogue, the tight script carefully and skilfully executed by this well-cast handful of actors.
Each of them carries off a combination of truth and subtle irony in the characters they become. Mrs Clarke (Selina Boyack) is convincing in her very clear warning to junior colleague Amrit Roy that his job is on the line, if he fails to convince Alan to sign up on the day of his 77th birthday. His focus must be on Well Gov’s targets.
When Roy delivers his spiel, of course he leaves the most important detail – "the catch" – unspoken, an elephant in the room. Actor Taqi Nazeer delivers Roy’s sickly sincerity so effectively that I, as an audience member, can see at first hand how elderly people can be conned by apparently nice people in official guise… especially when they're encouraged to consider their families’ plight once they have gone.
Karen Bartke evokes empathy as Karen, drawn in but oblivious to the scheme’s real intention. She truly loves her dad, but wants something better for her family than she can presently provide. Not at any cost, it’s clear, but the stakes for everyone concerned here are high.
There’s a lot to think about here. The play’s subtitle is pertinent: "The Future: But only Just". This rings true, and warns of what may be to come.