EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scottish writer Darren McGarvey’s one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe, informed by his own violent and addictive past, is a powerful insight into Britain’s wealth gap via rap and acid comedy.
Blocks of flats in the city of Glasgow are seen from Cathkin Braes, Scotland, Britain August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
His upbringing in Glasgow’s poorest high-rise estates, combined with his fluid patter and fresh ideas on how to tackle inequality drive his show, “Poverty Safari Live.”
McGarvey, 33, tells the story of a working class boy who goes to a party with his girlfriend’s university friends. Dressed first as his rapper alter-ego Loki and then bespectacled and in a suit, he dissects the attitudes of Britain’s poor toward the casually privileged and tries to explain it.
The show pokes fun at class; “regeneration” projects with cafes selling “gender-neutral gingerbread” and warns the working class in the audience that the theater bar only sells orange juice “with bits.”
At times it is uncomfortable too, tapping into anger and prejudice and shining a light on how the poor are shut out.
NatCen Social Research has found that the highest backing for Britain to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum was amongst those classed as most economically deprived and with no educational qualification.
Using his own memoirs as a hook to talk about poverty has proved successful, and this year McGarvey won Britain’s prestigious Orwell prize for political writing with the bestselling “Poverty Safari”.
“Brexit Britain is a snapshot of how things sound when people who are rarely heard decide to grab the microphone and start telling everybody how it is,” he says in his book.
McGarvey, who has worked with police fighting gang crime and with social services helping children with anxiety and deprivation, suffered an abusive mother as a child. In a drunken rage she once held a knife to his throat at a party, one of many harrowing incidents he recounts in Poverty Safari.
“I never regarded my childhood as hard until I saw the look on people’s faces when I talked about it,” he says.
He spent years as an alcoholic and drug user, even as he was working with social services to help young people with the same problems. The exercise of holding up a mirror to society and its assumptions about class is potent because he applies the same process to himself.
“I’ve taken on a potential tension between middle-class sensibilities and working class sensibilities and pulled it in to work, so that it is something that can be used as grist in the mill for creativity,” he told Reuters.
“Instead of accepting it, I’m trying to reconstruct it in my work to make it acceptable to both sides.”
Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison