Pleasance has questions to answer over Jerry Sadowitz cancellation - Martyn McLaughlin

I am sure Jerry Sadowitz finds few things more nauseating than a newspaper columnist rallying to his cause, but his frustration at The Pleasance’s decision to pull his show is entirely justified.

Having cancelled the last night of the stand-up’s short run after receiving complaints, the venue’s director, Anthony Alderson, appears to be cosplaying Lord Chamberlain.

He first of all issued an statement entirely divorced from logic. It defended the Pleasance as a champion of freedom of speech, while ruling that Sadowitz’s material “does not align with our values”. He added: “This type of material has no place on the festival.”

The arrogance with which Mr Alderson presumes to speak for the world’s largest arts festival is breath-taking. The Fringe began as a gathering of outcasts who staged performances in spite of their omission from the main festival. That act of defiance embedded a culture of open-access, unprogrammed entertainment.

Even more problematic is Mr Alderson’s interpretation of freedom of expression. What is censorship if not the cancellation of an artist’s performance because it is deemed “unacceptable?” And what are the values he speaks of? Have they been codified or published? Was the decision to enforce them made by Mr Alderson alone, or did he consult the charitable trustees who employ him?

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The Pleasance later issued a longer statement that only succeeded in raising even graver doubts about its new-found censorious stance.

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged,” it explained.

16/09/15 . GLASGOW. Head and Shoulders of Martyn McLaughlin , Senior Reporter. Byline of Martyn McLaughlin. Martyn McLaughlin. head and shoulders.

Really? So established theatrical devices are off limits if they happen to breach the Pleasance’s undefined standards of taste and decency? What of Scott Capurro, Jimmy Carr, and other comedians espousing challenging material via – often thinly-veiled – on-stage personas, and who have performed at the Pleasance under Mr Alderson’s directorship?

What of Chris Gavin’s malevolent portrayal of Francis Begbie in Davie Carswell’s stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, Porno, currently playing to packed crowds at the Pleasance Courtyard? Are we to infer that Mr Alderson regards this production as exceptional because the unedifying character is in service of a recognisable dramatic narrative, or is he content to tolerate the expletives in the knowledge that the Trainspotting crowds will fill the Pleasance’s coffers? Sadly, we are none the wiser.

The Pleasance is facing questions over its decision to cancel Jerry Sadowitz's Fringe performance. Picture: Scott Campbell/Getty
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