Brian Beacom

YOU have reached the age of 77 where statistically, in Scotland, it’s time to shuffle off.

But you don’t, do you. Because you still have life in your veins.

You still have so much to live for.

However, the Government decides that it doesn’t want to keep on paying out your pension.

So you are offered a nice lump sum, to pass on to your nearest and dearest, if you agree to go to that great Pension Palace in the sky.

That’s the theme of writer Robert Dawson Scott’s new play, Assessment.

Set in the near future (but hopefully this world is very far away) it’s a satire on present day treatment of those who are being denied state support in the way they once were.

“The Government’s position on disability and work assessments altered a few years ago,” says Robert.

“I found myself listening to stories of people who were being told ‘Yes, you have one leg and one arm but we deem you fit to work.’

“And I was appalled by it. I wondered about the conclusion of it all.

“At the same time, I was talking to a doctor friend who is on one of the appeals panels who judge those with disability and she told me they were refusing fifty per cent of the appeals at the time.”

Robert felt compelled to write about this dramatically shifting position in society.

And so he created play about the system which was so weighted against the men and women who are clearly unfit to work.

His satire has been described as Logan’s Run meets I, Daniel Blake.

“I began to look at the numbers and the statistics on pensions and what I discovered was eye watering.

“For example, one pound in every fifty spent goes on pensions. There are 15,000 people over the age of 100 in the UK right now.

“But of course, that in itself wouldn’t make a drama so I pitched it I the direction of a man who is caught up in all this.

“I chose a man who is older with not much of a family.

“And the idea is that the government comes to him and says ‘Don’t you think it’s time you should just cash in your chips?’”

The central character in this hugely provocative piece is Alan McDonald who lives with his daughter Karen but they don’t really get on.

Alan is 77 and that’s the age of life expectancy of a man in Scotland at the moment.

“It’s slight higher across the UK as a whole,” says Robert. “And there are areas in Scotland where it’s lower, thanks to issues of violent death and suicide.

“But the point is, once you go past your life expectancy you are creating problems for the government inspector of pensions.”

The play has a heavyweight backdrop but that’s not to say it won’t be without elements of black humour.

Four years ago, Robert Dawson Scott wrote an acclaimed play The Great Train Race which was staged at Glasgow’s Oran Mor theatre.

Set in 1895 and offering huge insight into the railway industry it still managed, thanks to clever writing, to be entirely accessible and funny.

“I don’t want to give too much away about how this play all progresses,” he says, grinning.

“But it’s fair to say Alan has to have a fairly difficult conversation with himself about whether or not to take the money.

“It’s a huge dilemma. Suddenly there would be money where there would have been none.

“And his daughter, who is on minimum wage says ‘I’m so sick of being poor.’ Life is getting to be rather desperate.”

The play overlaps with another major issue; people’s right to end their own life.

“We frequently see cases coming up in court with people who are ill or in pain.

“And euthanasia is illegal in this country. For the likes of Dignitas treatment they have to go abroad.

“The pressure is on however for people to make these sort of decisions.”

He adds, smiling; “If I may make the pun, it’s a live issue.”

The fear is the theme of this play is a real worrying issue.

“This could happen. Even though it’s supposed to be a satire, people who’ve read it feel it to be real and so very nail-biting and close to the bone.”

The play is very much about pressure. The daughter is one of the down-trodden masses who is trying to survive on the living wage.

She will get lots of money if Alan sign the contract agreeing to his own premature expiry.

The young guy who comes to do the assessment is effectively a salesman.

And there’s the boss in the background who’s putting pressure on the salesman to get results.

“I loved the idea of everyone being under pressure,” he says.

It’s not hard to tell the writer has enjoyed the process of creating a play with a searing message.

But as an arts writer and theatre critic himself, Robert is under added pressure himself.

“I’ve been covering the Fringe for forty years, and this is the first time I’ve written something for it rather than about it,” he says, smiling.

On a scale of one to ten, how scared is he?

“Eleven,” he says, grinning. “You are aware that people will look in sideways, with added interest.

“And fellow journalists like yourself will be thinking ‘He’s crossed the floor of the house.’

“So the will be a level of scrutiny will be rather more than the average Fringe debutant would attract.”

*Assessment, the Edinburgh Festival, the Gilded Balloon, until August 14 and then 16-28.