For those young enough not to have seen the TV series ‘The Good Life’, which ran from 1975-1978, this is the Wikipedia entry for Margo Leadbetter.
“Margo cannot understand her neighbours’ lifestyle, but their friendship is important to her. As a child, Margo Sturgess, she was bullied at school for having no sense of humour. A social climber, staunchly Conservative and unafraid to challenge anyone who gets on her nerves, Margo nevertheless reveals herself to have a heart of gold. She involves herself with organisations such as the Pony Club and the Music Society, always wishing to play the lead role. Margo is occasionally made aware of her faults by others, including her husband, and is not too proud to apologise.”
In this one-hour set, we meet Viv as Margo, with striking 70s print dress and hairstyle to match. But this is not merely a pastiche of a character. Viv is, post-Brexit, in search of Margo’s essential goodness and spirit, and in search of the middle-class values that make her who she is.
The evening starts in slightly shocking 70s style with the audience being asked to put their keys in a large bowl. Through the show, a few random sets of keys are drawn, and their adornments commented on, before the owner is gently interrogated as Margo serves them a genuine gin and tonic. (Jerry, of course, said it was OK to serve the audience alcohol.) The interrogation is very much done as Margo.
There is always a playful, and yet painfully existential attitude in Groskop’s humour. She relates her Mother’s wish to become more English and middle class, gradually erasing her Irish accent over time to ensure that her daughter’s received pronunciation would be flawless. There was a fervent wish to conform and to fit in to middle-class England from both of her parents. She also gathers stories, or confessions, from around the country, about the most middle-class things people have ever said or done. And underpinning all of this is the shocked Guardian-reader who can’t quite come to terms with the fact that their fellow English folk have said no to Europe. The Telegraph-reading Margo may not have been quite as shocked. The disbelief about the attitudes of others is akin to Margo Leadbetter’s firm incomprehension of her neighbours growing vegetables and keeping animals in a wish to become self-sufficient.
This is the painful, difficult little area where Groskop’s humour succeeds best. She acknowledges herself, and to a large extent, her audience, to be middle class. And she ridicules the pretension of being middle class with wry observations and asides, and satirical stories of ordinary middle-class lives. But she also, in the background, stands up for the values and decency of middle class attitudes – the essential kindness and goodness, behind the veneer of the snobbery or pretension of a Margo Leadbetter, then and now. It’s a reminder that Britain in 2016 is still very much driven by class, and in certain respects, probably also powered by Gin.
As well as being in a venue where the gathering area is in fact a bar, the show is delivered in a decently intimately sized room – it’s easy to pass the G&Ts around, and this aids Viv in creating a cosy, collaborative relationship with her audience. There is a gossipy air of quiet cocktail party conspiracy. Her accents and impersonations are superb, and her comic timing has a flawless ease that ensures all of her punchlines land. She’s the best of Margo – charming, witty, clever and observant.
At the end of the hour, you emerge feeling you want to embody the best parts of Margo, and to be a little kinder, more understanding, and appreciative of others’ views and opinions. You are also less afraid to still stand up for who you are and what you believe in. In the United Kingdom of August 2016, this can only be a good thing.
Book tickets for Viv Groskop – Be More Margo
Stand 4 (Venue 12)
Aug 6-14, 16-28 – 1 hour