Marcus Brigstocke: The Brig Society

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Sometimes it seems as if politics has gone beyond satire, given the cruelly ironic cry of ‘we’re all in this together’ echoing down from the gilded palaces of our Cabinet of millionaires.

As the entitled old Etonians slash services, hoping a vague ‘big society’ of volunteers will plug the gaps, while privatising what’s left to the lucrative benefit of their corporate chums – it would be a bold man who suggested what the situation needed was the views of yet another privileged posh boy.

Nonetheless, step forward Marcus Brigstocke. But in place of the smug entitlement of David Cam-moron and Gideon Osborne – as the comic childishly and amusingly insists on calling them – he carries a heavy burden of middle-class guilt about his situation, fuelling his more progressive approach.

That’s probably shared by much of his audience – certainly here in Hedge End in Hampshire. ‘Polite, white, middle-class Lib Dem voters’ Brigstocke sums them up as. No one admits to coming from overseas and the most Chinese person he can find in the room in a guy called James.

This, and the audience’s mannered desire not to draw attention, makes some of the early banter-driven sections seem a little like hard work. Brigstocke has fun ‘empowering’ the audience in the spirit of the Big Society, and makes some sport of the Portsmouth-Southampton rivalry, which, like parochial feuds the nation over, make no sense to anyone outside the immediate area. Yet momentum is hard to build up and Brigstocke, who’s been touring as King Arthur in Spamalot of late, is forced to concede: ‘This is a lot harder than I remember.’

Nevertheless, it’s to the audience he again turns as he appoints his own Cabinet, each with a responsibility for a policy area which he just happens to have his own ideas and routines about. But the device adds fluidly to the written set, as he seeks audience suggestions to complement his own.

Brigstocke’s favourite, if overused, tool to talk about the state of Britain is the analogy, which becomes formulaic, even if it’s very well delivered. Osborne is like the Lion in The Wizard Of Oz; Greece is like the underage kid who was so desperately trying to get into the cool nightclub that is The Eurozone and hang out with the bigger boys; NHS reform is like Take Me Out. That said, his very practical demonstration of the causes of the subprime crisis is tragically funny, because it is so true. And leaves a lot of people out of pocket.

Bitter is better, and when he gets on a high-horse rant, the show zings. Sometimes he forgets the humour – or, as in his questioning why The Sun remains Britain’s bestselling newspaper after all the awful things it has done – there isn’t much humour there to start with. But there are moments when righteous well-informed passion and sharply-written comedy collide perfectly.

Brigstocke’s certainly got it in for Jimmy Carr – as much for his mean-spirited stand-up act as his tax affairs – and his suggestion for funding the renationalisation of the railways is sublime, born of the intense frustration of all the nonsense every regular train passengers must endure.

Meanwhile, his outrage at the tax-efficient privileges the registered charity that is Eton College bestows upon its honoured pupils is played through his own well-appointed past, and is all the more playful for it.

The coalition between politics and comedy in Brigstocke’s act sometimes involves compromise, but at least neither side of the pact has completely given up the ghost, as in the real world.

Review date: 24 Sep 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Hedge End Berry Theatre

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