Edin_Thumbnail2(2).jpgI bumped into an old friend today who said how much they hated the Fringe. Not for the usual reasons – braying students on a jolly, the busy streets, flyers handed out on the Royal Mile for shows that warn us how the environment is in danger from our wasteful use of resources – but because it encouraged a trivial response to performance. This rapidly let to a conversation about how we both disliked stand-up comedy.

Leaving aside my lack of a sense of humour – nobody as pompous as me is likely to find the court jester funny when he bursts my bubble of jargon – there is a problem in the way the Fringe consumes performance. As a reviewer, I use it as a chance to research genres in which I am vaguely interested and about which I am deeply ignorant. So I bustle between shows: yesterday was Indian dance, tomorrow is American drama. The day after, I’ll be telling you I know all about Hindu devotional dance and Southern American existential doubt, even though the nearest I have been to Alabama is the women I pick up in sex chat rooms.

Of course, I blame late consumerism. It encourages us not to take time over things, to rush, to consume more. I think I am so much better because it isn’t episodes of soap opera I am totting up, or home furnishings, but it is exactly the same mentality that made me an avid collector of comics ten years ago. I mistake seeing something for understanding, possessing it for owning it.

My excuse is brilliant. I am just a victim of my time, and the freedom a reviewer’s pass give me to roam the Fringe at will. Never mind that I am playing into the ultimate trap of the Bad Guy, to absolve myself of moral responsibility for my behaviour. Since I am in the victim’s role, I can quickly slip in an obnoxious comment, then point to my dilemma as justification.

Friday is probably going to be “human traffic” day. There are many shows about forced prostitution this year. Without wishing to sound obnoxious – are any of these plays really going to make a difference. There can hardly be anyone who supports the traffic of women for sex, yet every single play points out how bad it is. And yet it reminds me of an earlier response to my post about burlesque. When it comes to political engagement, everybody will defend the right of the artist. Few people will actually get their hands dirty and do some political action on the ground.

I do have a natural aversion to theatre that preaches. And I know that each play will have seen a great deal of research. I am only asking, not condemning: but will any of these plays actually change the situation? Or are they each just another check on a ticklist, an hour of the day spent in worthy activity and distraction from the horrors of the world?