The working class is defeated, they have no political representation and they are only the subject of popular disdain, mockery and hatred.
This is thinking behind the two playwrights Beatrix Campbell and Judith Jones in their latest offering Blame.
Hackney Independent talked to them just as Blame is about to open at the Arcola Theatre on Kingsland Road.
The play is set in a multi-racial working class household in this borough. Divided by drugs, alcohol and violence the household unites around the disappearance of one of the youngest members of the family – a 10-year-old girl.
Beatrix Campbell, a long standing journalist, and Judith Jones, a social worker of 30 years experience, have worked together before on their previous play And All the Children Cried, and decided to write together again on that elephant in the British sitting room – class.
Beatrix explains: “What moved us to do this play was that we were interested in what has happened to the working class. In our lifetime we lived through the amazing contrast between the moment after the Second World War when the working class had to be taken into account and its demands had to be answered to the point now where the working class doesn’t really exist at the parliamentary level or in a category where they are going to be taken any notice of.
“And the consequences of that for the poorest people within the working class are astounding and unacceptable.
“It’s impossible to ignore the way that there is a permanently pauperized presence in Britain.”
Theatre is infamous as the place where the polite classes go to quietly sip wine, but facing the paradox of presenting such a working class-centered piece in a middle class institution, the writers are unapologetic, as Beatrix makes clear:
“We believe totally in the importance of addressing the life and times of working class people who are maligned, in any environment that we can possibly find and challenging middle class or upper class or reactionary political preconceptions about how people are in those circumstances.
“What we are interested in is an unsentimental look at how these people behaviour is sometimes terrible, sometimes funny, sometimes mystifying, and sometimes tragic, and any environment that that can be aired is good as far as we are concerned.
“Besides, the final resting place for this play will be in the Arcola Theatre on the Kingsland Road in Hackney, which is where the play is set, so nothing could be more appropriate.”
Hackney remains today one of the most overcrowded and poverty stricken boroughs in London. We live in a labyrinth of concrete tower blocks that houses a population of which over half are dependent on some form of income support. But despite deep seated social problems, the borough has become a byword for urban chic as gentrification has taken hold over certain areas.
This social conflict provided the ideal setting for the play:
“Hackney is emblematic of what has happened to Britain with globalization and what has happened to the working class. It’s emblematic of a borough in London that has always been poor and where life has always been a struggle, it’s also emblematic of the enormous richness of our history and culture.”
Both Judith and Beatrix comes from working class families and have spent their subsequent professional careers working and writing about the class.
Beatrix is the author of previous acclaimed books Goliath: Britain’s Most Dangerous and Wigan Pier Revisited, with Judith Jones has her experience grounded in over 30 years of social work.
One in three children today grow up in poverty, a figure which Judith finds astounding: “I thought when I started social work that there would still be so many children living in poverty – I thought that something might be done about it and then we could deal with other issues such as mental health and children protection, but this certainly hasn’t been the case as we have to deal with it all.”
The play is bound up with their pessimism for the future of working class politics in England. Without a representative voice, the playwrights claim, they lack any economic clout.
“It’s very hard to imagine how the working class will gain a strategic presence here in England,” explains Beatrix Campbell, “The transformation of the Labour party means that is not a party with a comfortable relationship with the working class any longer.
“We feel very strongly that its needs and future have very little political articulation at all, other than being to blame for everything and as people who are lowlife scumbags who are spoiling it for everybody.
“We are trying to confront this situation with this play.”
Blame runs at the Arcola Theatre from March 27 until April 21.
To book tickets call their box office on 020 7503 1646