Consisting of three short interlinking plays set in 2019 and a dystopian near future, Jayne Woodhouse’s Classified offers a chilling but not wholly unrecognisable glimpse of a Britain where social class has become our single defining characteristic.
In Choices Leanne (Kayley Rainton), a new mother, is interviewed by an official from the “Department of Life Choice Options” (David House), who knows everything about her living situation and employment history, and uses that knowledge to question her ability to raise her child. 60 years later, in Classified, a couple (Neil Gardner and Rosannah Lenaghan) argue over her decision to stop and help a “class Z” homeless man: a moment of compassion that could have an impact on their own class ranking – or worse. And finally in The Watchers, Sarah (Rainton) looks back on her mother’s decade of non-violent resistance to the system, and explains why she’s now chosen to respond in a different way.
The trio of plays is simply staged by director Calum Robshaw, but with universally strong writing and performances, the show nonetheless succeeds in making its point very effectively. Though each story is only 20 minutes long, the audience quickly becomes invested in the characters and what happens to them – perhaps because the world they live in and the attitudes within it, though extreme, are not entirely unfeasible. I’m sure, for instance, that while DOLCO isn’t (yet) a thing, the kind of interrogation to which eighteen-year-old Leanne is subjected three days after giving birth almost certainly does take place. Similarly, unwillingness to help those less fortunate because of the risk it might reflect badly on ourselves is taken to exaggerated lengths in the second play – but that attitude already exists in our current social and political climate. It’s easy to see how these stories could become reality, and by more than once bringing the audience into the action, the play shows us too how we could be complicit in making it happen.
The final play is perhaps the most challenging, because it asks us to consider how we should respond to a corrupt and heartless system of government that weaponises social status against its own people. There’s never any doubt that something needs to be done – but is meeting violence with violence really the answer, even when all other arguments seem to have failed?
Throughout the show, the characters are forced to make choices – sometimes with the audience’s help, other times alone. In some cases, there’s a clear right and wrong; in others, it’s not so black and white. The impact of each choice is then felt throughout the rest of the play, demonstrating how the decisions we make every day can resonate and affect not just our own lives but those of people around us. Cleverly written and deeply unsettling, this trio of stories sends its audience home reflecting on both the possible future we’ve just seen, and on our own actions and attitudes in the here and now. Highly recommended for a thought-provoking evening.
The final performance of Classified is at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre tonight (12th October).