The hottest ticket at the Edinburgh festival circuit this year is not by a much-talked about young comedian searching for a spot on a panel show. Or a world-renowned author making a rare appearance after years of quiet solitude.
Rather, it is by a Glaswegian author-rapper who digs into social mobility issues and his own battle out of poverty.
Such were the four-star reviews for Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey’s Poverty Safari Live that tickets were rarer than a coherent governmental Brexit policy.
The title is drawn from McGarvey’s wealth gap-probing book the live show takes its name from. The 2017 bestseller picked up the Orwell Prize for political writing this year and propelled the 34-year-old to mainstream fame as a political commentator, informed by his own turbulent upbringing and experiences of extreme poverty, addiction and homelessness.
Just five years after working his way out of that very situation, McGarvey entertained audiences across Britain on Question Time, introducing many to the term “jakeball” during a discussion on the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
With the success of his unflinching depiction of a childhood draped in violence, alcoholism and extreme poverty, McGarvey used his book to examine the wider societal issues that he saw deeply rooted across the country, so it was natural that Poverty Safari Live came next.
A unique blend of poetry, rap, comedy and social commentary, the show allowed McGarvey to tell the story of a working-class boy, not unlike himself, trying to “cross the ravine” into the world of his middle-class university-educated girlfriend. Interspersed with his own polemic challenges, the new commentator of our time examines the possibility of social mobility (a term he notes an immediate dislike for) when you live in a place of extreme poverty.
His argument that poverty is complex is one that we at The Big Issue know all too well. Every day we uncover new challenges in our mission to give a hand up. It felt right to ask one of our vendors, in the world of which McGarvey writes, to go along and review.
We took vendor Floare Cirpaci, 27, to give us her unique take on Poverty Safari Live. Arriving from Romania just two years ago she has her own experience of “crossing the ravine”.
“I can’t speak for everyone in Romania but it was a bad place for me to raise a family, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to grow there,” she said.
— Big Issue Scotland (@BigIssueScots) August 16, 2018
With a pitch outside the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer, Floare has seen for herself the gaps in wealth within the city.
“It can be difficult in Edinburgh to be around so many wealthy people,” she said. “But I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now without being here.
“There’s a lot of poor people in Scotland too. But it’s better here and people have the chance to change their life if they want to.”
Poverty Safari Live is littered with side notes. McGarvey addresses the crowd and admits his own shortfalls, his own battle with learning the ropes of feminism, privilege and all that comes with the growing minefield of “what is OK to say”. But with humour and humility, he challenges us all to admit our own preconceptions in a somewhat uncomfortable hour.
I’ve changed what I can and I’m still learning.
“I liked the rapping,” Floare said. And while some of the more Scottish specific nuances may have been lost on her (the show opens with a trigger warning for the working class that the bar sells juice with bits and a joke about the dental nightmare of Wham bars), she understood the complex conflict of self that comes with finding a way out of poverty that Poverty Safari confronts.
“I know things are still bad at home, which is difficult sometimes. But I’m trying to improve my life for me and my kids.”
Floare’s enjoyment of the show came from her first-hand experience and personal understanding of some of the issues that McGarvey has honestly laid bare, but she recognises that she too has found a way to improve her circumstances.
“I can’t change everything. But I’ve got a job here on my pitch and I like it. I’ve changed what I can and I’m still learning.”
Poverty Safari Live is at The Stand’s New Town Theatre for the Edinburgh Fringe until August 26. Head here for tickets