Edinburgh Festival 2011: Tom Binns as ‘Ian D Montfort’

Tom Binns as ‘Ian D Montfort’ ****

Pleasance Courtyard, Above. 6.15pm

I hate ‘mediums’.

This isn’t a unique position, I know. Lots of people loathe them, believing (as I do) that they are well- practised charlatans who prey on the recently bereaved and the overly credulous. But then, there are still enough poor souls lapping it up to line the pockets of John Edward and Derek Acorah. If only there were a way of exposing their cynical cold-reading and vague generalisations for what they are…

There are actually many ways of doing this, but one of the most entertaining is to pay a visit to the world of Ian D Montfort, the spiritualist creation of the comedian Tom Binns. In Montfort, we find a character well suited to the twin goals of amusing an audience and venomously satirising those with the ‘second sight’.

In a soft, north-east accent, he engages members of the audience in exchanges composed of nebulous guess-timates about their circumstances, followed up with his trademark question, “Does that make sense?” Initially, most of the set pieces are examples of failed cold-reading and casual back-pedalling; after asking one guest whether he remembered a fictitious incident and hearing ‘no’, he smoothly nods, “Right, you don’t remember…” as he slides onto another audience member.

Then he moves into a second phase, where his readings seem designed purely to make outrageous statements about the audience. He accuses one man of being a Nazi, another of killing a prostitute in his car… various abominable deeds are attributed to his victims in the stands, backed up by the infallible testimony of the spirits whispering in his ear. Written down, this seems a little pedestrian, but Binns exploits a masterful talent for delivery and converts each jibe into a laugh which ripples throughout the room.

Finally, he moves the performance into a third (and most impressive) stage: all at once, Montfort’s readings become razor sharp. His guesses begin unerringly to find their mark, with names and personal details accurately attributed to an increasingly amazed selection of spectators. The performance closes with a very impressive trick, to which references have been seeded throughout the evening – it’s Derren Brown-esque and leaves us scratching our heads, bemused.

In his closing statement, Binns leaves us in no doubt about his opinion of so-called psychics, highlighting the fact that he could give an identical reading to two different people and make each feel that it was intensely personal. “But I have to feel,” he emotes earnestly as Montfort, “That being able to do that… it must be some kind of gift.”

In truth, it’s Montfort who is the gift: a gift to the rational contingent who despair at the surfeit of ghost-chasing con artists littering our airwaves. Recommended viewing for all skeptics with a sense of humour.

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