Working-class representation in mainstream theatre is “stuck in the past” and reinforces outdated stereotypes, industry figures have claimed.
Theatre and TV writer Nessah Muthy and drama academic Jo Shah called for new working-class stories and voices, arguing that the current landscape is dominated by shows such as Only Fools and Horses and Blood Brothers.
Speaking on a panel about representations of working-class women in theatre, Muthy said: “When I was at school, we were taken to see Blood Brothers. When was that written? In the 1980s, and I was at school in the mid-noughties.
“My drama teacher said: ‘Why aren’t we taking these kids to something else?’. It feels like we’re frozen in time a bit.”
Common’s artistic director David Loumgair questioned whether productions such as Only Fools and Horses the Musical, based on the 1980s sitcom about south London market traders, “actually do more damage than [they] think with typical theatre audiences” by perpetuating old working-class stereotypes.
Muthy added: “I adore the TV show, but again, when was it written? In the 1980s.
“That’s not to say it shouldn’t be on, but then change the landscape and give a platform for other [working-class] stories and voices.”
Shah, from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, echoed Muthy’s comments, arguing: “Drawing on the example of Only Fools and Horses, to me it’s just representing this idea of almost a national identity crisis that we’re currently having, and the need to connect with things that make us feel safe.
“That could be television shows we watched growing up [which enforce] our idea of what it means to be British, and I think the representations of the working class have historically played a huge part in helping us position that fading of national identity.”
She added that theatre was “stuck in the past” with its representations of working-class people, and argued that an “updating needs to happen” in terms of the stories being told.
The panel was part of an event run by Common, an organisation set up to push for greater socio-economic diversity within the industry. It took place at the Vaults in London earlier this month.