Edinburgh 2010 – Pleasance Courtyard – 5-30 August – 14.14 (1:00)
Ian D. Montford: Touching The Dead is a pitch-perfect pastiche of the kind of ‘genuine psychics’ who use often dubious techniques to help gullible souls/spiritual believers (depending on your standpoint) contact those who have ‘passed on to the other side’.
Actor and comedian Tom Binns completely inhabits his supernaturally switched-on character – a Sunderland psychic with immaculately-coiffed hair and a beatific countenance. Wading straight into the audience, he begins the psychic shtick of cold reading with the help of his ‘spirit guide’ – a deceased spot welder named Geoff. His readings are wide of the mark at the beginning, an excuse to trot out a few easy one-liners at the expense of both himself and his willing volunteers. So far, so funny, but then the show takes a bizarre twist – a diversion which turns it into something a bit more special than the normal piece of performance comedy.
Slowly but surely the performers’ predictions and comments start to chime with audience members. There’s just a few at first, a correctly guessed name, age or marital status. Within the space of a few minutes predictions which were wide of the mark become unerringly accurate. Working out how he achieves it is all part of the fun in this subversive celebration of all things occult featuring everything from tarot cards to crystal balls. When the predictions go wrong, of course, it can just be utilised for comic effect meaning Tom Binns is onto a winner no matter what the accuracy rate is.
The jokes never let up, with a string of dead celebs ‘coming forward’ to help provide the punchlines. From Record Breakers‘ Norris McWhirter to the inevitable self-proclaimed King of Pop Michael Jackson, they never outstay their welcome – stopping only to embarrass an onlooker or drop a sparkling one-liner. Carefully chosen to be instantly familiar to all ages, they are spread throughout the performance and apparently suggested by the subconscious minds of audience members. Never over-used, these famous spirits provide a way to keep the laugh-rate up and ensure that there is some let-up on an initial over-reliance on audience participation.
What Binns has so ingeniously done is to learn many of the real tricks of the psychic trade, making Montford completely believable. If he wasn’t playing the show for laughs he could probably make a living out of it. Four set pieces in particular are genuinely impressive pieces of conjury, which would grace any illusionist’s setlist. A prediction based on the outcome of a phrase entered into internet search engine google is jaw-dropping in its sheer effortless execution. He claims that his spirit guide is feeding him the information but the only apparently reasonable explanation – that he has memorised the complete work of Shakespeare, the entire Guinness Book of Records or the whole World Wide Web – is scarcely more credible than the supposed supernatural helper on his shoulder.
It’s a storming performance which works on several levels and a piece of work that sets out to make a point and delivers it in spades.
Cast Credits: Tom Binns – Ian D. Montford.
Company Credits: Writer – Tom Binns. Consultant illusionist – Philip Escoffey
(c) David Hepburn 2010
Reviewed Thursday 26 August