Letting the Critics In…
















Some of the earliest headlines around this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe concerned the “stushie” (to use that great Scottish word) between performer Paul Sinha and The Scotsman newspaper’s revered comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Essentially, Copstick had requested a press ticket for Sinha’s first performance in Edinburgh. His team refused, on the grounds that it was a “Preview”. Copstick made a stroppy comment about it on Facebook; Sinha made some rude comments about her in his next show. End result: no one really came out well, but the world continued to turn.

OK: I agree that a show’s producers have the right to choose when they let the critics in. Yet I’m no fan of shows happy to take the public’s money – for even one evening – without also opening themselves up to critical appraisal.

This is – or rather was – my seventh year reviewing the Fringe, with a bit of the International Festival thrown in for good measure. It was the first, though, in which I became aware of shows – and not just stand up comedy – refuse press tickets because they had a preferred Press Night or were not giving out any comps until after the Previews.

When it happened to me, I must admit I was annoyed; so miffed, in fact, that I was close to walking away from the whole thing. However, I calmed down and didn’t throw any of my metaphorical toys out of my metaphorical pram. I simply accepted that I wouldn’t see those shows.

This wasn’t, I must emphasise, because I was having a strop. Simply put, being in more than one place at the same time is a skillset I’ve never acquired, despite it being really useful in Edinburgh during August. I may be writing this towards the end of Week One of the Fringe, but that’s me done with reviewing this year; from tomorrow I’m working at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Now there’s a strong chance that all of the shows which refused me entry on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd would have been happy to have me in the audience on the 4th or 5th; indeed, one did let me in on the 7th, despite it not being their preferred “press night”. Even to achieve that, though, involved me having to drop two other shows that I’d wanted to see... but just not quite so much.

I repeat: I accept that shows have the right to decide when critics are let in, but surely they should be confident enough about what they’re offering to not hang back, especially when they still expect a willing Jo Public to pay for a ticket. (Yes, I know those preview tickets are cheaper, but they’re still selling them.) More importantly, they should trust the professionalism of the critics, especially when it’s the like of Copstick!

I know I can recognise a still-getting-the-tech-right “Preview” and critically judge it accordingly. I just doubt now that it will ever be a show including the likes of Sinah.