Darren McGarvey’s Common People

On a sunny afternoon in the mid-90s, a young ginger-haired boy is making his way across town to reach his psychologist appointment. This weekly Thursday afternoon excursion comes off no less a godsend to the young lad, where this escape from school and venture into the upmarket West End of Glasgow is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise turbulent life, stepping into an unfamiliar, enthralling yet placid world free from the persistent threat of violence in Pollok. But this brief respite is quickly forgotten: a group of local youths have spotted him. Far from approaching him with typical macho swagger, however, they fall deathly silent and look away, doing anything to avoid a confrontation. As they shuffle off, heads bowed, the young man is overcome with a mixture of confusion, pride and resentment: hard enough to be feared by some affluent children, but viewed as an entirely different species by the other half, and altogether voiceless.

An eclectic mix of discussions on issues that affect us in everyday life

For Darren McGarvey, becoming an Orwell Prize and BAFTA winner as well as one of the leading voices of class relations in the UK seems almost implausible when one looks back at snapshots from his youth, scenes that he brings to vivid life in his 2017 biography Poverty Safari. Where the latter would launch him into public consciousness, Common People does not idle on the Glaswegian’s hectic past, focusing upon the here and now with contemporary topics ranging from AI and technology to education and social mobility, all the while attending to its baseline: class, money and mental health. A podcast brought to the stage, Common People, is an eclectic mix of discussions on issues that affect us in everyday life as much as it attempts to “normalise a working class voice” in a world that actively deprives them of one.

On the night of this viewing, we saw psychologist and author of Unprocessed Kimberly Wilson and McGarvey’s personal trainer Nicki Small discuss dieting and exercise, and the viability of healthy lifestyles for the average person. In particular, it wrestles with the habit-driven mould that our dopamine-seeking brains have hardwired into us, and the difficulties of making changes in a life caged by routine. Attending to issues of causality and free will, it seeks to answer the question that if one is a product of their environment – particularly one where the cheapest food is the unhealthiest – how can one make individual choices for healthier lifestyles? With audience questions, the show gains traction for its intentions whilst showcasing McGarvey’s agile mind and sharp wit, and expands the discussion beyond the three on stage.

Nonetheless, the show’s greatest weakness lies not in its content as much as its location. Against a backdrop of rampant prices driven by the hyper-capitalism of Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, one cannot feel there is a blatant irony in a show centred on social divide, especially given the audience’s composition being largely middle class. In a city burgeoning with gentrification and working class exodus, finding ‘common’ voices amidst a sea of tourists and ex-Southerners fleeing London prices feels unfeasible. This too begs further questions – is art and culture only reserved for the privileged, and if so, doesn’t this undermine the very show designed to give the common person a voice?

McGarvey, however, ever aware of his surroundings, draws attention to the paradoxical nature of Common People and the inaccessibility of high culture to the masses. Perhaps it does not disrupt the status quo as much as it recognises there is a problem with cultural capital, and a first blind viewing leaves an impression of middle class voices hidden under the guise of working class concerns – particularly when the middle-aged man from Kensington in the front row becomes visibly flustered at McGarvey’s skit on entitled cyclists in response to the audience member’s impassioned demand for more cycle lanes. But this is both the beauty and Achilles Heel of the show that, mercurial in nature and sporting a wide array of discussion topics and a varied audience, offers the viewer a more than valid reason for return.

Visit Show Website

Reviews by Stuart Mckenzie

Assembly George Square Gardens

Massaoke: 80s v 90s Live

★★★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Locusts

★★★★
theSpace @ Symposium Hall

The Billy Joel Story

★★★★
The Stand’s New Town Theatre

Darren McGarvey’s Common People

★★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

One Week in Magaluf

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Darren McGarvey’s Common People – the brand-new podcast from the Orwell Prize and BAFTA-winning author – makes landfall at the Fringe for a week of live recording. With a special guest every night, a Q&A and the usual blend of politics and humour, McGarvey will deliver a night to remember with gratuitous use of the c-word – class – throughout.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets