Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 14-18/8 and 21-25/8
The Fringe – and theatre generally – has a class problem. 42% of British BAFTA winners went to private schools when 7% of students in the UK attend such institutions. The Fringe relies heavily on exploitative working patterns and Airbnb hosts 10% of all properties in central Edinburgh, many of those hosts capitalizing on the popularity of the festival and contributing to the capital’s housing bubble. Just days after I see Class, the festival will host a workshop on ‘how to actively and effectively engage working-class audiences an make tours accessible and engaging to working-class communities’. Why would you fund and encourage working class art when you can attend a workshop on making your own work more successful?
At the start of Scottee’s one-man performance, he indicates that it’s a show ‘for the middle class’. He asks the audience to ‘make some noise’ if they align to this identity, following his definition of the term, and cheering appears more self-conscious than the cheers that welcomed him to the stage minutes earlier. Class tells one person’s story of growing up in a north London estate, and forces a majority middle-class audience to awkwardly address their ideas about class, poverty, and solidarity. Some may criticise Scottee, who appears on stage in a red Adidas tracksuit and various pieces of gold jewellery, as a camp exaggeration or caricature of the working class. Yet throughout his set, he shocks the audience of the stark reality of growing up poor – he tells stories of his former teenage band mates, who have since died, and how hereditary misogyny leads to cycles of domestic violence – and reminds us that four million people in the UK use foodbanks today. Stories that form the basis of jokes become solemn as the show progresses – at one point, Scottee reminds the crowd that ‘you laughed at that one earlier’ when a particular childhood memory is retold in a more sombre tone.
Class forces the audience to confront privileges indirectly and directly afforded to them. As we lined outside the venue, we were given a green token with no explanation. Inside, there was a box – similar to supermarket charity voting schemes – with the question ‘what do the working classes need?’ One box read ‘Money’ and the other ‘Love’ – Scottee later informs the audience that voting – which was never deemed compulsory – was 60% and 40%. The results are paradoxical – if poor people need money, then high earners should redistribute wealth. If the working class need love, how do you know they don’t have it already?
Similarly, speaking to an audience member who had awkwardly cheered to declare their background earlier, Scottee asks another simple question: if you were home alone as a teenager, and someone knocked at the door, would you open it? They answered yes; the same question when asked to my friend provoked an entirely different answer. There is a blaring television at the corner of the stage throughout the set, positioned so the audience cannot view any images on screen. As the show ends, Scottee positions mirrors facing the audience – forcing them to look back at themselves – and the image on screen bears the last four words said on stage: WHY ARE YOU HERE? The audience is almost silent pouring out of the venue. There is no post-performance post-mortem, but silent reflection from many as we head back downstairs. Class may be an uncomfortable viewing – but its intended discomfort is no more uncomfortable than the reality it depicts.
[Amy Shimmin – she/her – @amylfc]
[Photo credit: @ScotteeIsFat]
Get tickets to ‘Class’ here