Michael Coveney: Critical tips on the fawning fringeDate: 7 August 2012
One of the most enjoyable delusions about covering the fringe as a critic is that you are also somehow participating in it. You are deluged with emails, pampered with flyers, made to feel welcome and important at the slightest of productions.
Reviews are treasured as gold dust, not for what they say, but for how many stars they give. There's even a stall somewhere in town where fringe performers can pitch their wares to a table of critical Solomons for five minutes and move on.
So it's no surprise that there are always critics who take this fawning as a prompt to direct action on their part. This year's sucker is Mark Fisher, the amiable and experienced reviewer who has written a survival guide to the fringe and is promoting it in the form of a late-morning chat show in the Pleasance.
To be fair, Fisher's not actually "performing" himself, nor is he actually speaking anyone's lines but his own, as he chairs discussions with the likes of artistic directors Orla O'Loughlin and Vicky Featherstone, fellow critics Lyn Gardner and Brian Logan, and comedians Josie Long and Phil Nichol.
But other critics go, and have gone, further. I dimly recall Ian Shuttleworth appearing as a stand-up in the same year, and indeed the same venue, as the League of Gentlemen.
I'm not aware of this kind of thing going on at other major European festivals, but then the Edinburgh fringe cannot really claim to be all that major any more: big, busy and democratically elected, sure, but its "major-ness" is forfeited in its happy slap-dashery and lack of quality control.
"Barry Cryer and Stewart Lee are about to star in Waiting for Godot" might be something else. As indeed might As Ye Sow in the Pleasance Dome, a new play penned by busy freelance critic, and occasional Whatsonstage.com reviewer, Stewart Pringle.
We shall see. We shan't see Nina Conti this year, though (or, rather, I won't) as she's cancelled all press invitations to her new show until next week.
She's probably still recovering from the shock of seeing the Pleasance Dome given a wonderful all-wooden make-over, no doubt in response to all the not so wonderful all-wooden performances it's hosted over the years.
As I was gawping at the glass dome and a team of cleaners abseiling down its exterior, I bumped into Pleasance boss Anthony Alderson, still smarting from Stewart Lee's remarks about the commercialisation of the fringe.
A mild-mannered gent if ever there was one, Alderson is seething at the injustice of Lee's rant. He points out that the Pleasance is a not-for-profit charity working closely with the city's university, another not-for-profit organsiation, and contributing a total so far of nearly £1m towards the Waverley Care Aids and HIV charity.
Things have become more expensive, he says, because of both the Health and Safety regulations and the reasonable expectations of the audience. Mark Fisher modestly says he hopes those expectations aren't too high for his own little show.
Don't worry, Mark, they won't be. But if you suddenly knock 'em dead with a critical comedy routine, do feel entitled to come back next year in a bigger and better venue, and charge a lot more than this year's measly £3 or £4 ticket, and really get up Stewart Lee's nostrils. No-one will notice you're a critic if you pretend hard enough that you're not.