An ‘immersive theatre’ experience costing £55 a ticket has been criticised on social media for apparently mocking working-class Londoners.
Zebedee Productions are holding a ‘Cockney nativity’ play along with a meal in a disused Hackney pub from December 1 to 22, and promotional images show a woman smoking and drinking while pregnant, a man selling apparently stolen jewellery, and a snarling twenty-something in an England football shirt.
Given Cockneys hail from a part of the East End of London which was traditionally working class, some Twitter users took the production as a clumsy swipe at the behaviour and habits of the working classes.
Pam Beddard tweeted: “And we wonder why what was once the white working class (before the pits/factories shut) is so angry? Anyone else, this’d be a hate crime.”
One person wrote: “Most restaurants go bust in the first two years and this tweet has made me thankful for this for the first time.”
Another added: “Ah, finally. It’s MY culture being fetishised for middle class Hackneyites”
Professor Tim Strangleman, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, said: “I don’t think you’d get any other group treated in such a derogatory and stereotypical way for entertainment. Could you imagine a play set in Southall about a South-East Asian Christmas party? Probably not. The white working classes haven’t quite made it to the banquet of diversity yet, and that’s partly because they’re viewed as the white working class.
“One of the ironic things about this is that this is being held in a Hackney pub which was once likely frequented by lots of working class people, and those attending this play would likely have never set foot in there in the past.”
London foodie website Eater chimed in with its own criticism, saying: “In area of London that has faced recent difficulties with gentrification, class tensions and ‘drunken hipsters’, a commercial pop-up that clumsily confronts the three — with reckless irony — was probably an event Hackney could have done without.”
But artistic director Zoe Wellman defended the event, saying: “We’ve been excited to explore the concept of The Cockney’tivity for a couple of years now, and we’ve always seen it as a proper celebration of East London culture through theatre.
“My mum was born and bred in Gants Hill, and I’ve lived in Hackney for the last 10 years – the whole of the cast is from the East End and Darren (a partner in Zebedee) is a Wood Green boy through and through. We’re all really excited about what we’ve been working on, and as a small theatre and production company this is a project really close to home. Being from the area ourselves it was never a question of poking fun at a stereotype and those who live in the area, however we are truly sorry for any offence caused.”
Prof Strangleman said that while more people identify as working class than any other category, there has been a stigma attached to it for many years.
That’s changing, however. He pointed out that Theresa May was repeatedly and specifically mentioned helping the working classes, while the rise of Jeremy Corbyn has put the priorities of working class people firmly in the spotlight.
“Owen Jones’ book Chavs was also an important step in challenging the stigmatisation of the working class in Britain.”