Working class voices: vibrancy, determination and finding inspiration in the ordinary

The lack of working class voices in UK theatre at the moment finally seems to be coming to the forefront of discussion, with theatres such as the Royal Court attempting to address the issue.


In this guest post, playwright Joanne Sherryden reflects on being a working class writer, talks about why we need to hear working class voices and shares some advice…

“Writing about working class characters and their stories wasn’t something I did consciously. It’s just what I did.”

Until recently, it genuinely never actually occurred to me that I was a ‘working class’ writer. Writing about working class characters and their stories wasn’t something I did consciously. It’s just what I did. These are the voices that I hear in my head. Their stories are the stories that I want to tell.

For me, I believe that theatre, like all art, should represent the full spectrum of society. Nothing thrills me more than seeing, characters on stage who speak like me and tell stories about people where I come from. Not literally, although that’s great, as well. But I’m talking about working class characters worldwide. Their stories, when told well, are universal. And I have to say most of these characters don’t happen to be racist, scrounging, uncultured, thugs. And they tend not to be victims, either. They have an energy, vibrancy, dynamism and visceral drive that, for me, is life affirming. These characters come more from the heart, rather than the head. Soul music, rather than classical. I love the poetry and bite of their language. The colloquialisms, the slang, the banter. I’m not gonna lie – I also love a cheeky swearword. I think there’s an art to swearing. Just as I disagree that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit – I love a sarcky put down, I also think there can also be a sublime eloquence to a perfectly placed swear word.

“Nothing is wasted. Life experience fuels my writing”

I’ve been asked if I have any advice to give other writers. I am the last person to give advice! But I would say if you have to write, you will write. I would also say writing is hard. But it’s meant to be hard. Get used to it. Like most people, I don’t have a trust fund, so I also work a ‘normal job’ and I have two children. Although my life is busy and can get in the way of my writing, I’ve also learned that nothing is wasted. Life experience fuels my writing. The main protagonist in my play, Lia, was inspired by someone I met at a bus stop on my way to one of my many crappy jobs.

“Send your stuff out.”

I sent my play Mermaids out in response to a call out for working class writers – and now it’s being produced. There is no way I would ever have been able to afford to produce my work in London. But it all started because one person, our director, Shiv, read my play and liked it. It’s now being produced in an Off West End Theatre with all creatives being paid on an Equity Scale. Hat’s off to the King’s Head who put their money where their mouth is.

“Believe in yourself”

Finally, believe in yourself. Of course you’ll have days when you think you’re crap. But overall, you have to believe you have something to say and a unique way of saying it. Cos if you don’t believe it, no one else will.

Joanne’s play, Mermaids takes place from Monday 2 July 2018 – Friday 6 July 2018 at the King’s Head Theatre and is directed by Siobhan James-Elliott. Find out more and book tickets here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.