Fringe's evil imps torment intrepid artists

David Lister reports on some bizarre happenings at the Edinburgh Festival
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The Independent Online
Spare a thought for Oscar the Hypno-Dog. Half of a hypnosis act on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Oscar is in possession of extraordinary powers but no longer in possession of a home. His story is but one of the bizarre occurrences that can take place when 1,000 companies comprising 10,000 people and assorted animals take part in the Fringe.

Things went wrong for Oscar and his master, Hugh Lennon, when their landlady, Fiona Torrance, read the publicity surrounding their act and evicted them. "People might call me paranoid," she reasoned, "but I have never seen a dog stare like that. It has huge brown eyes that never blink. It's really unnerving. I don't like dogs at the best of times, and especially not dogs that play with your mind. I was worried that it would corner me in the kitchen and put me in a trance."

Hypnosis can also sort out the odd problem. At one venue, the Spiegeltent, there was only a 15-minute break between the hypnotist Shane St James and the acclaimed magician Paul Zenon, not long enough to clear the audience. So Mr St James now obliges by hypnotising a member of the audience to be a "rude manager" and abuse people into leaving promptly.

Mr Zenon must have felt that the world was against him. He arrived at the art deco Spiegeltent to find it designed with mirrors positioned all around the tent so the audience could see the stage from every angle. "The magician's worst nightmare," he gasped when he arrived. Actually, it was not. The centrepiece of his act is being levitated as dry ice fills the stage, but with stage management being a little chaotic on the Fringe, the dry ice dried up one night and the audience saw the mechanism doing the levitating.

At least the weather was good - exceptional for the Edinburgh Festival. But the curse of the fringe extends to flooding in a heat wave. The Subway venue was flooded out and four shows a day cancelled. "It seems the water board accidentally turned on a fire hydrant by mistake," Faith Liddell, of the Fringe Office, said wearily.

Ms Liddell has spent much of her time being weary with officialdom. "British Airways has messed us up in a major way," she sighed, referring to the amount of costumes and props that seem to have been mislaid in transit. An aboriginal group, NND, are without their didgeridoos, even now assumed to be circling magically round on an airport baggage conveyor belt. "These are not just props," said Ms Liddell, "they have emotional and spiritual significance."

When props do arrive, they do not always behave. In the Russian play The Suicide at the Traverse Theatre the man about to commit suicide shows how depressed he is by suddenly seizing a plate and hurling it to the floor to shatter in pieces. Only it did not. It rolled around the stage, husband and wife trying to trap it with their feet, the plate evading all tackles. Husband looked at wife and ad libbed hopefully: "I think it's cracked."

Things can even go wrong for those protesting about all this avant-gardism. A group of respectable, elderly residents formed a demonstration outside the Palladium, a new venue at a converted church in a suburban street. The bar was open late and the acts featured nudity, sexual suggestiveness and bad language, most notably the Jim Rose Circus. A supporter joined the demonstrators. Holding up a placard reading "Jim Rose Go Home" the man with pointed beard and American accent was the most vociferous of them all. "Hell, this is a residential area," he said indignantly.

Jim Rose, a freak-show impresario, had anonymously ingratiated himself with the locals and was leading the Jim Rose Go Home demo. A detailed plan went so wrong it became a piece of street theatre in its own right. It was pure Edinburgh Festival.

Comedy reunion, page 6

Arts, page 12