The Edinburgh Fringe is a challenging place to be. There’s so much choice, it can be tempting to overload yourself with stories and binge on too many shows. Class could be the answer to all of your problems, because with just one ticket you get a richly layered narrative and several dramas in one, seamlessly interwoven to pack a powerful punch that will leave your head spinning.
Class is an incredibly powerful drama, brought to life by writing and directing team Iseult Golden and David Horan. The central conceit, that 9 year old Jayden is struggling at school and his parents have been called in to discuss the next possible steps, is so nuanced that it could carry the whole show by itself, but spinning off this anchor are parallel scenes with the children themselves (played by the same actors as their parents) where Jayden, his teacher Mr McAfferty and Kaylie, another struggling student, get extra lessons. Golden and Horan create a strong tension between these scenes, with pleasingly different child / parent perspectives on the same events. More importantly, this format sets up different windows through which to examine the politics of the class system within the classroom.
For this is Class‘s punch to the gut: it explicitly lays out how the educational outcomes of children are determined by their socio-economic class. It boldly asks whether teachers give up on working class students at the first signs of trouble, and explains how such school experiences can dictate the rest of a person’s future. Middle-class Mr McAfferty (and by extension, the audience) learns a significant lesson, when Jayden’s parents pull him up on his unconcious bias against his working class pupils.
Jayden’s dad Brian wouldn’t like the phrase ‘unconcious bias’. A straight talking taxi driver, who’s proud of his family’s working class integrity and mistrusts any fancy talk, he is the wake up call for Mr McAfferty’s middle-class asumptions. He gives Class a strong legacy – an urgent little voice in your head that interrogates the subtle ways in which you project your social status in everyday speech. Golden and Horan’s script masterfully communicates this lingual class divide, with enviable subtlety. But Class‘s moral credentials don’t stop there – it also examines the exhausting number of roles that teachers have to play – surrogate role-model, relationship counsellor to parents, nurse, friend and even policeman. It portrays how parental prejudices are passed directly on to children, and how early damaging ideas can take root. As if that’s not enough for an hour and a half, it also takes a bypass via toxic masculinity and mental health.
Serving all of these complex ideas requires a cast at the top of their game – Will O’Connell as Mr McAfferty, projects an affable front, whilst letting his vulnerability and stress peak with remarkable control. Sarah Morris particularly shines as child Kaylie, though she is as comfortable with the physicality of the young girl as she is the huge emotional range of Jayden’s mother Donna. Stephen Jones as dad Brian and son Jayden has the largest emotional journey to travel during the show, being largely responsible for the play’s pace and tension. He proves more than a safe pair of hands, delivering an electric performance that none will forget in a hurry.
Class is an absolute winner – every word is rich in purpose, driving the show forward. The cast deliver standout performances. It’s a vitally relevant story, as class divides widen in the UK. Quite simply, it will teach you a few lessons you will never forget.
Class is playing at Traverse 2, Traverse Theatre, every day at various times until Sunday 26 August (not playing on Monday 20 August). Tickets are now sold out, but you can contact Traverse Theatre for returns on 0313 228 1404
CAST AND CREATIVES
Written and Directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan
Set and Costume Designed by Maree Kearns
Lighting Designed by Kevin Smith
Sound Designed by Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty
Cast – Stephen Jones, Sarah Morris, Will O’Connell