Theatre review: The Class Project

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Rebecca Atkinson-Lord is in action before the audience have even taken their places.

Summerhall (Venue 26)

****

She’s seated on a desk on centre stage in leggings and plain black T-shirt, blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail, brassy Wolverhampton tones garrulously welcoming us all in, commanding everyone to get up the front and fill in the seats closest to her. When the play proper starts most minds will already be made up about her; about her intelligence, her preferred topics of conversation, where she lives, what her show will be like, whether they might stop and talk to her on the street. About her class, essentially.

Some might even wonder what she’s doing in a theatre in the first place. Which is a canny and brutally realistic sleight-of-hand on the part of Atkinson-Lord, who really did grow up as the child of a working class family in Wolverhampton, but who was the only one of her siblings to be privately educated. She’s walked either side of the class barrier which divides Britain throughout her life, and the show she has created is personally political rather than exercise in polemic, turning the focus on herself to excavate the parts of her upbringing she’s left behind in order to become a metropolitan actor in London.

In doing so, she takes us through her family background and the surrounding politics of her lifetime, reading pre-recorded conversations of her parents discussing their lives and breaking the piece up with defining quotes from prime ministers Thatcher, Blair, Cameron and May. Some of these elements feel slightly over-styled, but Atkinson-Lord’s point – and the manifestation of it, as she subtly transforms into an elegant lady in an evening dress with a cut-glass, haughty tone – is expertly made, inviting all of us to question how much of our own class is an outward protection, and how malleable that might be, depending on what we choose to leave behind.

Until tomorrow. Today 8:40pm.