Journalists rank down there with estate agents and mass murderers as among the least popular people in the world. So Ian Shuttleworth, a freelance theatre critic, is not in the least bit concerned about bringing his profession into disrepute with Critical Mass ('Comic Genius' The Independent), his new show about being a reviewer. "What's going to happen as a result of this - is it going to lower people's opinion of critics?" he asks with a laugh.

After seeing several hundred shows over eight years at the Edinburgh Festival, Shuttleworth is well-placed to give a jaundiced critic's-eye view of proceedings. He is especially sharp about the way reviewers catch "Edinburgh fever" during the Festival. "There is a general sneering at the excesses of the critics in Edinburgh. They get what is called 'the Edinburgh bends'. The frenzy and non-stopness of the experience militate against having time to marshal your thoughts and appearing to be rational."

All the same, Shuttleworth is wary of appearing too "in" with this show. "I'm trying not to make it too navel-gazing," he confirms. "It's not cliquey- ly dropping names so that only initiates get the joke. It's designed to be accessible. It's a comprehensive guide to Edinburgh - from where the best chippie is to translations of shows' publicity blurbs. I'll be translating buzzwords like 'vibrant', 'original', 'award-winning' and, of course, 'comic genius'. Award-winning is particularly meaningless. It could apply to a Cruft's Best of Breed."

Some comedians are talking of coming to review Shuttleworth. "If gamekeepers turn poachers, people may think it legitimate to send poachers to review those gamekeepers. I can only stop them coming by putting huskies on the door, and I can't afford that. I'm on a budget of 28p and a stale custard cream."


Paul Zenon has been a casino croupier and a conman on the Mediterranean in his time. Now he lays out his trickery in front of a wider audience with what is billed as a "display of maverick magic and cunning conning".

Paul Zenon is at the Spiegeltent, Edinburgh (0131-558 8010) to 30 Aug