Should Fringe really mean Fringe?

It’s August, which means Edinburgh doubles in population for 4 weeks as the multitudinous Festivals swarm our city, pumping the civic coffers full of much needed cash.  Ironically, the largest of the festivals is the Fringe, originally a small-scale outfit which has swollen to a bloated high as the primary outlet for “popular” entertainment such as stand-up comedy and what can only be described as “random” theatre.  With hundreds of venues belching entertainers, flyposters, leaflet monkeys and other detritus onto our streets, one wonders as to how much quality control certain vendors will exercise when ticket sales are at stake.

My case in point: the Assembly, a major venue which celebrates its 30th anniversary at the Fringe this year.  They’ve come under fire for putting a psychic medium in their programme.  Joe Power, who became infamous after the illusionist and sceptic Derren Brown put him to the test in Derren Brown Investigates, has a three week run for his show, The Man Who Sees Dead People.  Power’s apparent psychic prowess was brought into serious doubt when investigated closely by Brown, and he has since received death threats for his deceit.  And it may well be justified – a charlatan who makes money by lying to the bereaved is among the lowest of the low, and no utilitarian “it makes the weeping feel better” argument will convince me otherwise.

So why on Earth would Assembly, a venue with a serious pedigree in providing good entertainment, acquire this fraud for three weeks? Are they of the opinion that entertainment is entertainment, even if it espouses an extremely unlikely (OK, I’ll say it, wrong) worldview?  It has certainly generated press for them – their 30th anniversary gala featured Power being heckled and booed off stage by local sceptics. Deeply wounded, he moaned

anything people do should be respected.

This statement sends shivers down my spine.  Is it respectable to deceive and manipulate vulnerable people, and take their money? Joe Power shouldn’t be respected for that, and neither should Goldman Sachs.

I have been to many shows at Assembly over the years – I even attended a one-man show where the entirety of Macbeth was acted out by the characters of the Simpsons.  But a psychic? That’s the line.


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