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Fringe Making

Last Tuesday, 20/8/19 I made the train trip east for a day at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

There are always a variety of interesting shows to catch in the month-long festival and this year I was particularly looking foward to Darren McGarvey AKA Loki’s Scotland Today. Having read and enjoyed McGarvey’s book Poverty Safari last year I was keen to see and hear him in the flesh.

Another reason for the trip was that during a recent stint working with Bright Signals I developed the FringeMaker web app – a Pokémon Go style game where you win points by “checking into” Fringe gig venues – so I was excited to hit the Edinburgh streets to give it a spin for real.

First port of call was to meet my friends Mick and Laura at George Square for a catch up and pre-gig beer. Having made it through the festival crowds and pouring rain to find them, we took temporary refuge with a pint and some tasty pizza from the nearby stalls, before setting off for our first gig: Tony Slattery’s Slattery Will Get You Nowhere.

Slattery will get you nowhere

In the early nineties I enjoyed watching Tony on Whose Line is it Anyway? and I was moved by a recent Guardian interview which revealed that in the years following the show ending he fell off the rails somewhat due to his bipolar disorder allied to alcohol and drug addictions, and was now looking for an agent and new opportunities.

The format of this show was just Tony and comedy historian Robert Ross sat at a table, with Tony answering a series of unscripted questions. Over the course of an hour he stepped through his career, from winning the Fringe’s inaugural Perrier Award with Cambridge Footlights pals Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson (“yeah but where are they now?”), to pant-splitting (literally) and deleted scenes on Whose Line is it Anyway?, to acting roles in films such as Peter’s Friends. It was filled with funny anecdotes involving the likes of Rik Mayall and Kenneth Branagh, plus a few might-have-been stories such as when he narrowly missed out (to Sylvester McCoy) on the role of Doctor Who.

Overall I really enjoyed this. Despite having problems which have taken their toll, Tony Slattery is still a funny and engaging performer and is also doing his bit to help raise awareness of bipolar disorder. He seems like a good egg.

Scotland Today

Onwards to Darren McGarvey’s show at The Stand’s New Town Theatre, and he unexpectedly begins with a TED Talk style discussion on space and quantum mechanics, setting up the idea that there are two contradictory versions of himself.

There’s the pre- Poverty Safari, lower working class CDE2 Darren; and the new, “poster child for working class politics”, middle-class, ABC1 Darren.

During the show he mostly speaks as the “new Darren”, describing how his situation has improved and priorities changed since no longer having to constantly worry about financial security. He is still angry about the injustices of life in the UK – citing the inadequate response to the Grenfell Tower Disaster as an example – but also realises that he has become a contradiction given his new status.

He moves on to suggest that the ABC1 group are in a privileged position, uniquely placed to get ahead in life while others can’t; and that because they don’t properly understand the circumstances of the CDE2s they are therefore not in a position to be making the decisions that affect them.

He contrasts the comfortable lives of the ABC1s with those of the CDE2s who live in quicksand – constantly being dragged down by financial and other societal problems, with no prospect of getting out and a feeling that by attempting to escape you only make matters worse.

McGarvey finishes by switching to his angry, in-your-face, baseball cap wearing alter-ego from another possible timeline; not blessed with the fortune of middle-class Darren and furious about the injustices of his situation and life in Tory-led Britain.

Again, I really enjoyed this show, and felt that McGarvey was just as powerful in the flesh as on paper, if not more so. There were maybe a few too many narrative devices and gimmicks going on than necessary, but he’s a really interesting voice and continually says things which make me think and challenge myself.

I think his new BBC show, Darren McGarvey's Scotland will definitely be one to watch.

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