fri 20/09/2019

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 reviews: Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today / Scottee: Class | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 reviews: Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today / Scottee: Class

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 reviews: Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today / Scottee: Class

Two vicious dissections of class and identity might just leave you reeling

Darren McGarvey: an hour of ire confronting us with the realities of a society we're tacitly endorsing

Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today The Stand's New Town Theatre ★★★   

Darren McGarvey (aka Loki the Scottish Rapper) won the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2018 for his book Poverty Safari, a startling, sometimes shocking examination of his own roots in deprivation and addiction in Pollok on the south side of Glasgow. The win shot him to stardom overnight, not least for the book’s unflinching dissection of poverty and privilege, and also for McGarvey’s equally uncompromising analysis of his own sometimes ill-considered opinions and perspectives. He appeared on radio, TV and in newspapers. He became the go-to man for honest, articulate insights into the working class.

So the question becomes: who is the prizewinning, in-demand Darren McGarvey now? Vitriolic spokesperson for the Glasgow underclass, or darling of the middle-class London media?

Not surprisingly, given McGarvey’s sometimes terrifying compulsion to analyse himself, it’s that very question that forms the backbone for his second Fringe show, Scotland Today. It looks a lot like stand-up – just a man, a mic, and a pedalboard with a few pre-programmed beats. And a lot of Scotland Today is blisteringly, unforgivingly funny. But McGarvey has a deadly serious intent: to dissect his own contradictions and expose them to our harsh gaze, and to confront us with the realities of the society we’re tacitly endorsing.

It starts off chattily enough. He divides his audience into ABC1s (the majority of us) and C2DEs (a small but vocal minority) and explains with cold logic how we in that upper bracket have privilege built into our very existence, while those trapped in the quicksand of poverty would do better – well, simply not to struggle.

And he goes on to split his hour of ire into two halves, two personalities, two timelines. There’s softer, more considered, middle-class Darren, still furious at the injustices he sees around him, but only too aware of the contradictions of what he’s become. Later, however, he wheels out an alternative timeline, with brutal C2DE Darren spitting barely coherent rage at Tory leaders – far less articulate, far less convincing, but necessarily so, full of fury as a life force.

McGarvey is a hypnotic performer, up there with the finest stand-ups, but talking staggering sense about the injustices of the world we all accept. But he’s crystal clear, too, that he doesn’t have the answers, that he’s complicit in the society he’s skewering, and compromised by his own success.

Scotland Today is a remarkable hour of spoken word theatre, as energetic as it is honest, and one whose revelations and ramifications stretch way beyond McGarvey’s own nation. It’ll make you cackle, but it’ll also leave you reeling, if not downright outraged.

Scottee: Class

Scottee: Class Assembly Roxy ★   

"Why are you here?" asks a caption on Scottee’s TV at the end of his equally scathing, furious show. It’s meant to shame his middle-class audience into realising their own poverty-porn voyeurism in coming to a show about the working classes, into acknowledging and confronting their privilege. After all, as Scottee has established, simply by coming to a piece of theatre, we’re all by definition middle class. But by the end of his exhausting hour of scattergun vitriol, you do indeed start to ask yourself why you’ve come at all.

There’s loads that’s great about his show – not least its ambition, to bring middle-class spectators up short with examples of true poverty from Scottee’s early life, shocking stories of abuse and violence, extortion and fear. His rage, too, is like a force of nature, emanating like a skin-peeling wind from the stage to hold up our ignorance and well-meaning paternalism for vicious dissection. And it’s scabrously funny, too, and merciless in its calling of bourgeois assumptions to account.

If only his seething passion had been backed up by a more compelling, structured argument. Instead, he’s let down by surprisingly lazy stereotypes – of both lower and upper classes – and a predilection for manipulating his power as a performer over his audience to his own ends. His pre-show voting request, wittily using Waitrose tokens, falls a bit flat when its big reveal comes.

Make no mistake, Scottee is a startling, galvanising performer, propelled along by righteous rage, and his Class will leave you prodded and provoked. But as it stands, it’s hard to feel especially enlightened or shamed by the show.

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