The Class Project

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s warm stage presence greets the audience as we enter. While she chatters and listens to our fringe grumblings and recommendations, we hear her friendly Wolverhampton sing-song voice, and, consciously or subconsciously, recognise her working-class roots. The play focuses on this connection between accent, appearance and class and how this influences your life chances and outlook.

One of the most likeable and engaging individuals I have seen at fringe this year, Atkinson-Lord puts the audience at ease immediately. She engulfs us with personal stories about all aspects of life and although the piece was entirely personal, thankfully it was not at all self-indulgent, as she delved into wider social issues.

The idea of an accent prohibiting or accelerating your life chances feels very pertinent at Fringe, where privilege is sometimes so visible and it is usually accompanied by a clear RP accent (Received Pronunciation). Atkinson-Lord has long learned to ditch her Wolverhampton drawl in favour of an indefinable, southern-ish chat.

Crucially she asks at what cost this must come? Indeed, her flippant and flawless jumping from one accent to another implies she has lost her roots. What should Atkinson-Lord sound like? The constant colonisation of her regional accent has left her lost. She longs for historical relevance or a homely folk song to feel a connection to her home. But with her newly gentrified and privately educated accent, even at her parents’ dinner table she feels excluded.

The nuanced points Atkinson-Lord makes with stories of her parents and grandparents sustain the play. Her grandmother would never have voted Labour even though they were campaigning for the free healthcare that she desperately needed. But voting Labour would have been what the poorer people did and her grandparents were better than that. She wouldn’t even let her daughter claim the free school meals that she was entitled to because she didn’t want her standing in line with the poor students. Thus Atkinson-Lord adeptly brings up class snobbery.

With a nice class chalkboard, Atkinson-Lord follows the Prime Ministers since Thatcher, showing us the wider picture her family’s story fits into. Be it Thatcher’s ‘there is no such thing as society’ or Blair’s ‘education, education, education,’ class has always remained a steady subject for politicians to debate or dismiss. This account of how class and accent has affected one person’s life and family felt honest and problematic. She is sometimes very funny, like when talking about class arguments becoming sexy foreplay, but is then suddenly bitter and angry, like when she was paid to take a woman’s Lancashire accent away.

Atkinson-Lord balances personal with societal issues through comedy and raw anger, creating great entrainment and showcasing her impeccable accents. Her theatrical piece of storytelling and social commentary is clever and thoughtful but never offensive. It is a reflection rather than a revolution and is a lovely piece of honest fringe theatre not to be missed.

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Jane Prinsley

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