Wednesday 31st July 2019 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London.
CLASS begins in a slightly fish-out-of-water, uncertain way and quickly falls in step to give us insights into the lives of various individuals who consider themselves to be working class or working-middle class. We’re all naturally intrigued by the lives of others, and this show gives us the rare opportunity to hear from a marginalised and undervalued group through a lens which is unclouded by political rhetoric or any kind of agenda beyond allowing real people to speak their truth.
Alyce Louise-Potter and Kelsey Short wear headphones throughout, listening to testimonies which they in turn deliver to us and while our cast may be small, the breadth of the show is significant. They introduce us to manual labourers, parents, ‘tearaway’ teens now grown up, army personnel and most entertainingly, sets of friends with great patter and often infectious good humour.
This dynamic of the headphones does at times create a sense of muddle as the duo appear to be out of sync within the recordings, causing them to overlap or to stumble when the natural pauses and quirks of speech in their ears don’t quite come across clearly enough as they interpret it into performance terms for us. On the flip side, it does offer the realism of dialogue which does of course overlap in the real world despite being neat and tidy in fiction.
It’s a simple set up which is relatively daring and definitely different. It’s verbatim theatre meets beautifully delivered monologues and although each ‘character’ is not necessarily distinct and the piece as a whole isn’t always cohesive, each is engaging and insightful without exception. Ali Armstrong’s lighting indicates shifts between these ‘characters’ and their snippets of stories, and director Xander Mars works in sync, blocking the scenes in ways which associate characters with placement within the stage space – something which becomes increasingly important as our cast hit their stride and begin to switch between individuals with considerable pace.
Once warmed up, this show offers genuinely interesting insights into the beliefs and attitudes of those identifying as working or working-middle class. What’s particularly great is that pride and honesty abound. There’s no raging anger at the corporate machine or angst-ridden tales of being failed by countless systems. Instead, there’s a celebratory tone attached to the individuals as they describe their various journeys and how they feel their experiences have shaped them in the best of ways.
Whether they’re explaining the innate need to assert some sort of power in their underprivileged childhoods or passionately advocating for those who graft to earn their living and recognise their relative prosperity in the eyes of those with less, it’s all serving to close the gap between prejudiced assumptions and realities. What’s more, they take care to point out the freedoms they feel when they compare their lives with the ‘middle’ or ‘upper’ classes but there’s not a single whiff of disdain or bitterness to go with it, there’s just assertive, thoughtful reflection with a fair few laughs thrown in.
We may wonder how the other half lives and never get a chance to understand such things beyond dramatisations and manipulated reality TV shows – what CLASS gives us is first-hand realities delivered with great energy, honesty and warmth. The show appeals to our nosy tendencies while representing those who are increasingly without a voice in theatre and in broader terms, society itself. They present the working classes in their own words, on their own terms and it’s not only interesting to learn about lives of others, but it’s also a delicately delivered education about the perils of assumptions and stereotyping and the importance of individual voices.
CLASS plays the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe until August 3rd 2019 – tickets here.