Down among the lunatic Fringe

You may have read about Edinburgh's phantom body painter. Last week the local police were hunting a middle-aged man who lured young women back to his bedsit by promising them a role as a painted statue in a Fringe show. He then covered them with paint, which unfortunately turned out to be gloss rather than the theatrical variety. One 21-year-old German victim required hospital treatment to have it removed. She was said to be too distressed to talk about the incident, but another victim, 17-year-old Cherie Smith, told journalists, "I just want to warn people to stay away from this guy - he's obviously a bit weird."

Having spent the previous evening at a performance by The Kamikaze Freakshow, which featured a man nailing his tongue to a piece of wood, eating ground glass and lifting a heavy weight by means of a chain attached to rings in his scrotum, I have to say that when I read Cherie's words I was a bit confused. It was my first visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and it had become very clear early on that if there is anywhere in the world where weirdness is not only tolerated but actively encouraged, then this is it. And is there anything weirder, let's face it, than somebody wanting to be a painted statue in the first place?

As it happened I had a weird ambition of my own. I wanted to go to one of those shows I'd heard about that are so unpopular that when you get there you find you're the only person in the audience. The idea had a sort of devil-may-care, bungee jump appeal to it. I came closest to fulfilling my dream when I went to see a play called The Weight of Smoke performed by an American company called Firefly Productions. I'd read that on their first night only one person had turned up and he'd decided to leave rather than sit there on his own, the coward. It seemed like a pretty good bet, but when I arrived I was disappointed to discover that there where three other people dotted around in the 80-odd seats. Nevertheless, we were still outnumbered by the cast of five (if you include the woman who appeared for 30 seconds at the end to do a little dance with the guy who'd drunk himself to death).

To be fair, the play actually wasn't too bad and we gave a resounding round of applause at the end, as much out of sympathy as anything. When we'd finished, the cast applauded us in return. Now that really was weird.

Eau my God, it's mass hysteria

Journalist and TV presenter Jon Ronson on being a judge for the prestigious Perrier comedy award: "The weird thing is that you can't move for people, including people you really respect, begging you for information. Firstly because there's betting and people want inside information, secondly because promoters and managers and agents want tips if an unsigned person is being tipped for the best newcomer award, and thirdly because knowledge is power up here and the Perrier means everything.

"People in London don't realise that the suicide of a Labour MP or corruption in Paisley - all these things that have been happening in the past two weeks - mean absolutely nothing. The only thing that means anything is the Perrier, it's like a kind of mass hysteria. It's incredibly important for people and consequently it's become incredibly important to us judges too. It's all we talk about, it's like a kind of collective madness."

When I saw him, he'd seen about 30 shows. And he wasn't even getting paid for it.

That sinking feeling again

A Few years ago I went to see a play by Steven Berkoff which, if memory serves, was called Sink The Belgrano. It was complete twaddle and ever since that night I've resented the fact that Berkoff deprived me of an hour of my life which could have been better spent doing just about anything else. Nevertheless, I decided to give him another chance in his new play, Massage, and he went and did it again! I sat through an hour and a quarter of complete twaddle featuring Berkoff in drag playing a woman who works in a massage parlour. There's no doubt that Berkoff is a brilliant actor and, to be fair, the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, but a large portion of the play basically amounts to Berkoff doing an elaborate mime of masturbating his clients.

I felt it was time to tell Mr Jerkoff about my dissatisfaction, although I was aware that he is famously narked by adverse criticism. I'd toyed with an opening question of "Mr Berkoff, your latest play has a central theme of masturbation. Is this a metaphor for your entire career?" However, when the time came, I bottled it a bit and ended up just saying, "I'm not a theatre critic obviously, er, Steven, but I have to say, um, I didn't really enjoy your play." Then I waited for the explosion. "Well it seems I'll have to work on it a bit more," he replied, with great humility and not a trace of irony. How wrong we can be about people sometimes. I forgive him for Massage, but I still want my hour back for that Belgrano thing.

Keeping Colm on his toes

There was also a book festival in Edinburgh last week, and it was there that I ran into the Irish novelist Colm Toibin. He was doing a lunchtime reading, at which the man from the local bookshop introduced him interestingly as "Colm Toe Ban". He read from his last novel and from his current work- in-progress. In between, he talked engagingly about life in Ireland and answered questions from the audience. One woman said she'd been struck by the difference between him and his work. "You're much perkier than a lot of your novels," she said.

Colm told me he's recently collaborated on a novel with six other Irish writers, including Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bulger and Joseph O'Connor. It's called Finbarr's Hotel and will be published in September. The big secret is who wrote which bit. "People think they can tell who wrote what, but nobody has guessed right yet," he said.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal