Pleasance Forth, Edinburgh
Another Fringe phenomenon, Red Bastard (or Eric Davis as his friends hopefully call him) was one of the biggest hits of 2013 and he’s back with a reputation strong enough to lure 300 punters at a time into one of the bigger venues at the Pleasance. We’d been warned to expect to be outraged. ‘Whatever you do, don’t put your hand up!’ And the posters for the show boasted that ‘something interesting will happen every 10 seconds.’ In the event, it didn’t, but maybe I’m quibbling.
Red Bastard is a skinny gentleman in a weirdly distended leotard, who bounds onstage and starts bullying the audience. It’s like an elaborate game of Simon Says. ‘All change places with each other!’ he barks. We all do. ‘Raise your mobile phones in the air!’ We all do as he says. His command over the audience is undeniable and it’s clear that many of the avid crowd have worshipped at this altar before, but… it’s hardly groundbreaking material. And then, he starts in with the self-help stuff and suddenly we’re into a different kind of show entirely. We are led to believe it is all about empowerment, about facing your fears, about realising that you are amazing and you have to stand up for yourselves. Which is frankly like the trite nonsense that people paste over pictures of dolphins on Facebook, to show the world how ‘sensitive’ they are. I suppose that Davis sees himself as ‘the fool who speaks the truth,’ but to me it’s more of a case of ‘the fool who talks like a novelty fridge-magnet.’ I cannot deny the show’s evident success, but this left me cold. On the way out, I overheard people enthusing about how brilliant it had all been; all I could think was that was an hour and twenty minutes I’ll never get back.