My Edinburgh Fringe Show Explores the Lasting Effects of Growing Up in Poverty in Britain
London-born playwright, actor, and broadcaster Scottee is heading to Edinburgh Fringe this year for the third time.
His show, Class, is a one-man autobiographical show that wraps up a triptych of work that started life in 2013 — and it’s all about Scottee’s perspective of growing up in poverty in Britain.
Through his 10-year career, Scottee has explored themes from “fatness” to queerness, classism and otherness within British society.
Here, Scottee writes about representation of the UK’s working class, calling out “poverty tourism”, and giving privileged theatre-goers something to think about.
“I was born into a single parent, Irish migrant family, living in emergency housing on the day of the Brixton Riots in 1985 — the bed I was born in has determined everything.”
That’s the opening line to my third and final solo theatre show, Class. I’m a working-class artist and I’ve made this show because I wanted to explicitly tell a middle-class audience about the long lasting effects of growing up in poverty.
What it is to be the child of those who grew up in poverty, the grandchild of those who grew up in poverty.
I’ve made this work specifically for the privileged because middle-class awareness of us lot is often limited to what Channel 4 spoon-feeds the nation.
Clumsy observation documentaries about who we are, how we speak, and what we do. We’re often painfully parodied as the opportunistic, taking what we can by doing very little; or as the not working class: lazy layabouts with no ambition.
We’re pitted through middle-class filters which disguise themselves as empathy, but dig deeper and you’ll find poverty tourism as the driving force.
Class is about calling that out, finding new ways of discussing what it is to drag shame and inadequacy into all areas of your life and attempts to give privileged theatre-going crowds some stuff to think about that pushes beyond pity.
I also want to challenge the dominant narratives of working classness in our society as they are often only around failure: the idea that we lack, that we just need to get ourselves out of the pits we came from, and claw ourselves into the middle class.
Working-class identity is rarely discussed with any sense of success. Of course, there is a lot of trauma and mess that comes with the lives we live ... but we also have a lot of joy, freedom, and solidarity in that mix, too.
The difficulty in discussing the working class is that we are not really a “we” — I’m sure by now some working-class folk reading this will be disagreeing with me.
We’re not just one ubiquitous mass. There is not one way of being common. Within the working class there is a whole spectrum of experiences that are determined by geography, economics, cultural capital, race, ability, and gender — my experience isn’t “the experience”.
Talking about class comes with a massive dose of paradox, too: We’re immensely proud people.
I come from a long line of working-class folk, proud of who they are, how they sound, and what they represent. But largely we all are still trying our best to escape the stuff that comes with the territory: pride and shame sit very closely in our lives.
We can critique the state, the system, and the failures of our own but if those on the high ground pull it apart, dissect our lives, then you’ll be met with animosity. Our pride takes centre stage.
As an artist I’ve always asked if I can still call myself working-class. This makes the assumption that working-class people aren’t allowed to be creative and the arts is fortressed for everyone but us.
There is some truth hidden in that question, though.
I’ve missed a bit of cultural capital doing this art malarkey, attention seeking, making a name for myself.
It means theatres, commissioners, funders, and audiences will give me the time of day to take up this space to talk about class and provoke them. There is a bit of a safety net for me now that I’ve established myself as a bit of a player in the theatre scene, so of course it’s me that’s allowed to be a spokesperson, because why would we let someone currently at the rock face hold that position?
Audiences leaving Class are asking me the same question over and over again: What do you want me to do with Class? How do I help? What is it you want?
The answer to that is: I don’t know. I’m not an economist, I’m not an elected leader, I’m not a social scientist.
I’m a mouthy, fat, working-class artist who has a lived experience that has meant I’ve been subjected to a disproportionate amount of grief, trauma, violence, and hardship just because of that aforementioned bed I was born in.
What I do know is I want us all to stop blaming the intangible capitalism and stop asking people like me for the answers. It's time you looked at yourself in the mirror and asked what it is you can do.
Scottee's show Class is on at Assembly Roxy for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until Aug. 25, and then at Manchester's HOME Theatre from Oct. 23 to 26.