Rebecca Atkinson-Lord on her inspiration behind The Class Project
You know that thing when something really niggles at you, but it’s too small or unspecific for you to really pay attention to it? I get that a lot. Especially around social interactions. That sort of itchy-under-the-skin feeling. I’d been feeling like that for years about how I spoke and about how other people reacted to my voice until one afternoon, with twenty minute to spare, I started writing The Class Project. I started with the stories my parents had told me about their own childhoods, about the opportunities and disappointments that had made them who they are. And then I moved on to my own stories; the inexplicable episodes that have lingered in my memory beyond all expectation; the snapshots of life that shape my own picture of who I am.
I grew up in a middling Midlands town where it felt like no one ever made much of themselves. Born and raised under Thatcher and her legacy, everything my parents taught me was about ‘betterment’ and aspiration but I never heard voices like mine on the TV or radio unless as the butt of sneering jokes. I never heard or saw people like the ones I grew up with represented in the media or in politics. Those worlds weren’t for the likes of us.
But thirty years on, with two degrees and a complete image makeover behind me, I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘London Metropolitan Liberal Elite’. Now, the folks from back home sneer at me when I visit and dismiss my right to speak for or about my home. In their eyes, I’m too posh to know my arse from my elbow; there’s no space for me there anymore.
The Class Project is my attempt to talk about all that in a voice that feels authentic. It’s a show about the cultural dislocation of class mobility; about being the Good Girl; about doing everything you were taught was good; about aspiration and education and moving up the social ladder. It’s about learning to fit in and always being an imposter and then, one day, realizing that you can never go home.
It’s my story through and through, but I think maybe, it’s also Britain’s story; we’ve worked hard and done our best for a lifetime; we’ve done everything they told us to do and we’ve given up some really important things along the way. And now here we are. A bit lost. A bit confused about who we are. An outsider where we’d hoped to belong.
I guess what matters now is who we choose to be next.
Writer & Performer of The Class Project