A lot of Fringe shows talk a good game when it comes to controversy. Who can forget the rash of show-promo posters plastering Jimmy Savile‘s image all over the city a few years ago? How many times the blond-botherer-of-the-vulnerable was actually featured in these shows probably had the Trades Description Act being cited more than once. But you can’t blame a trier, eh? It’s a great way of grabbing attention.
But – cross my heart – I wasn’t being a cheap-thrill-seeker as I stood in Niddry Street the other night trying to decide between Jim Davidson’s Funeral or Sex With Children. The latter – as performed by Chris Dangerfield – was recommended by Andy Zapp the night before, but – while I respect his opinion – stand-up comedy about child abuse – really?
Believing Jim Davidson’s Funeral to be the slightly more appealing option I was ready to choose this as my shock-de-jour. However as I observed one of the flyering performers turn pale and visibly tremble as Rev Mulvey asked him about the show’s content – he could have been intimidated by the working-class Scottish accent – but I took it to mean the show was going to be pretty much JD-lite. On the other side of the street – and this particular audience-bartering session – stood Chris Dangerfield. Sharp-suited, good-toothed, fez-wearing, whippet-thin – coming on like a snake-oil salesman or East End barrow-boy made good. There was no competition.
Ushering in the smallish audience, he didn’t seem to mind – as he informed us without a hint of embarrassment that he’d played to four people the other night. Well, Chris doesn’t really do embarrassment as he presents for our entertainment tales of being abused as a child. These include being interfered with – at different stages in his young life – by a local conjurer, a husband and wife entrusted with babysitting him and – to prove that depravity wasn’t confined to Chris’ particular corner of the Garden of England – a French paedophile with whom he swapped sexual favours for dirty postcards whilst on a day-trip to Boulogne.
Entertainment? Actually, yes – in the strangest, deepest, darkest way imaginable. Pieces like this are often described as Ortonesque but I don’t recall Joe Orton writing humour this black. There is the added edge of it being personal testimony as well. And of course when you go down that route it’s inevitable that the original story becomes blurred through substance-enhanced time. But it certainly isn’t my place to question the authenticity of Chris’ tales of of trying exhume the body of his first tormentor or – more recently – having sex with a ‘goth lobster woman’ (go see the show if you want to know more!).
Much of Chris Dangerfield is bluff and bluster but I do believe that at the centre – of both him and the show – there is that confused little boy screaming for help. A damaged soul who’s tried all the therapies – psychological, emotional and chemical – and finds the only thing left is to find humour in that potential pit of despair. If you have the stomach for it you should definitely go along and help him exorcise those demons. But you should also see him for less altruistic reasons: as there are two things that can happen to Chris Dangerfield – he will either become huge like Russell Brand (a pre-abstinence, pre-Hollywood version he resembles a lot of the time) or simply self-destruct. Let’s hope this particular therapy works and he won’t have to suffer either fate.
Heroes @ The Hives, The Bunka, Niddry Street, 21.00 until 24 Aug