Cameron’s vision for the Big Society has largely polarized public opinion. Ahead of his visit to Epsom Playhouse on April 23, Surrey-born comedian Marcus Brigstocke tells Rosanna Greenstreet why he is giving audiences on his new tour the chance to get up and have their say
When comedian Marcus Brigstocke brings his show, The Brig Society, to Surrey, he will be returning to his roots.
“I was born in Guildford, although I don’t remember it; my mother does – she was in labour for about two and a half days!” says Marcus, who lived in Elstead until he was six and then moved to Haslemere.
From the tender age of seven, Marcus boarded at St Edmund’s School in Hindhead. “That was my first expulsion,” he recalls, “I burnt down the goal posts because I didn’t like football. I took direct action.” Marcus tore his way through several other schools including King’s Bruton in Somerset, but his behaviour did not improve. He describes himself as, “an ungrateful posh boy unable to see the immense privilege that I had been offered, so squandered it by being a bumptious p***k!”
His flip remark masks the serious problems that he had during his schooldays, when he suffered from both alcoholism and compulsive over-eating, which led to him stealing to feed his addictions and further expulsions. Looking at him today it is hard to believe that, until he sought help at a treatment centre at the age of 17, Marcus tipped the scales at twenty-four stone. Were his issues a result of unhappiness at being sent to boarding school?
“The two things were interlinked,” he says, adding, “But it’s important to say that I don’t bear any ill will towards my parents and the decisions they made, and I don’t hate the fact that I went to boarding school. I gave an interview to someone who wrote, ‘Poor little Marcus Brigstocke was ruined by his uncaring parents’. That is not how I see it. Yes I was very unhappy, whether I was unhappy because I was at boarding school or whether I was unhappy because I was already in the grip of an eating disorder, I don’t honestly know. I got really messed up but it’s not like I walked around with my head hanging down, I laughed most of the time. I messed around with my friends and, broadly speaking, I had a pretty good time”
Marcus’s chequered school career is all the more ironic because his mother is a well-respected teacher. “She taught Drama and English and was headmistress of St Ives School in Haslemere. She went on to be a governor of The Royal School. She taught my brother, but she never taught me – I think it would have done for both of us!” says Marcus.
The Brig Society is Marcus’s response to David Cameron’s Big Society. According to Marcus, who has been known to refer to the Prime Minister as David Camer-moron, “The Big Society is an invitation from the government to run more of our own affairs, while they busily remove the things that we think we’ve paid for because they tell us we can’t afford them. The Brig Society is 90 minutes of stand-up about the state that we are in, how we might save money, what to do with the bankers. It is solutions focused. A lot of comics just say, ‘Oh, that’s shit’ and ‘The Tories are w**kers!’ I am saying, ‘What can we do? How can we make this better?’ It’s a more enjoyable way of doing a tour – I don’t think I could bear six months of hate-filled cynicism. The Brig Society is saying, ‘Alright then, if you want us to run more of our own stuff, we will.’ And so I appoint ministers from amongst the audience. The other night I appointed a Minister for the Elderly – a lady who was 71. I said, ‘What policy would you enact to improve the lives of pensioners?’ And she said, ‘I’d raise the age of consent to 47 – it would improve my odds!’ I really liked that.”
And so, when the Brigstocke seniors come to see their son perform, will he make them ministers? “That is a good idea!” he laughs, “I could make my mother Minister for Education. I don’t know what she thinks of Michael Gove – not very much, I would guess.”
Spending six months away from home is hard for Marcus. He says, “The day-to-day mechanics of doing hundreds of miles a week, walking in on your own to a theatre and then sitting down to eat afterwards and saying, “Table for one please,” are a bit bleak. But the show itself is a delight and I love doing it.
One can’t help feeling that the fact that he recently separated from his wife Sophie, mother of his young children, Alfie, 9, and Emily, 7, gives his solitary life on tour an added poignancy. He says of their break-up, “The combination of being a touring comic and the pressure of modern living, mean that I didn’t succeed at that ambition that I’d set myself. We are not together anymore and it’s sad, but we are all moving on. It’s amicable and she is the most fantastic mother and is very understanding about the way that my life works on the road, and I see the children often.”
As well as being a stand-up, Marcus presents the BBC radio and television series, I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, and he is an accomplished actor. He was cast as King Arthur in the West End hit Spamalot and played Mr Perks in the wonderful adaptation of The Railway Children at Waterloo Station. Marcus covets a role in the musical Matilda. “I would give my right, and probably my left arm as well, to play Miss Trunchbull,” he says.
Whatever Marcus does next, it won’t be another stand-up tour. “I couldn’t finish The Brig Society and go, ‘Well, that was good, let’s write the next one.’ I can’t work like that. The stuff that I write all comes from care – I’ll feel strongly about something and then create a show around it.”
So, as Marcus’s next show may be a while coming, catch him in Surrey – in The Brig Society – while you can.
Want to watch the show?
Marcus Brigstocke: The Brig Society
Epsom Playhouse: April 23