Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “You might be entitled to PPI”. How about this one: “Have you recently been involved in a car accident…”. The expansion of accessible technology has both enhanced and hindered lives, as scammers use direct access to our communications and vulnerable moments with greater zeal. Tragically, this has led many to fall victims to financial scams, leaving them exposed, untrusting, and in horrific circumstances, feeling as though they only have one option left.
Anne Wood (if this is even really her) spends her days cowering in her old offices, petrified at the idea of debt-collector arriving at the door. Then it happens. A tall, broad gentleman in a black suit asks for her, but there’s something off. This gentleman isn’t too sure who Anne is, and doesn’t seem to want money, but rather, to help in a twisted manner.
Julia Munrow brings a grounded sense of urgency and anxiety to Anne’s voice, ever fidgeting and distrusting of the looming figure standing in her office. Anne is a character all too familiar to anyone who has ever struggled financially, especially now. She is a distressed person who has slipped between the technological and financial cracks, who finds difficulty in balancing debt, and -in seeking aid- encounters the endless amount of red tape brought about by bureaucracy and automated help-lines.
In contrast, there’s a distracting imbalance in performance and presence from co-star Stu Jackson who portrays the mysterious entity called Mitlān Smith. Manifesting in Anne’s office dressed as a cross between a bailiff and a hitman, his physical presence would cause anyone to fear for their safety, but Jackson’s fragile delivery and lacklustre demeanour stagnates much of the characters impact.
The production also suffers from a number of technical and production issues which prevent the piece from reaching its full potential. Stilted editing greatly affects the overall pacing; holding agonisingly on shots where a speedy response is required. Likewise many of the transitions between dialogue are broken up, spaced apart or require even a few seconds shaved off on either end. Moreover, the show’s lack of audio cues or a sound score gravely affect the final product. This needn’t be a production that relies heavily on effects, but it is noticeably lacking as Munrow offers up characterisation by glancing out of windows, but there’s a lack of reinforcement in an audio or visual clue to the instigator of her paranoia.
Joan Greening’s script understands the difficulties and reluctances people have around money. Amidst discussions of tax, the death of privacy, and anxieties over financial stability, there are still alleviating moments during which the cast still manages to garner a chuckle despite the grim subject matter. Overall though, it comes across as a bit too self-aggrandising, chasing around itself in an endless cycle of dialogue which professes to be profound, but in reality, is turning out the fortune cookie scribbles. The concept that death is the final escape for those suffering is a significantly painful prospect; that mortality cannot outweigh debt is a visceral story but here it isn’t paid the respectful dues Greening attempts to articulate.
Scammed has golden merit at the core, with a fruitful idea surrounding the vulnerable people who slip between the cracks which Munrow carries well. Sadly though it’s all let down by an indelicacy in subject matter and poor direction choices which don’t play to the production’s strengths.
Scammed is available to watch until 31 January here