Peter Craw­ley has a vi­sion of stage psy­chics

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

When it comes to psy­chics in the the­atre, it’s hard to find a happy medium. Tire­sias gen­tly hints that Oedi­pus ought to let mur­dered kings lie, or that Creon should cool it with the whole bury­ing-his-niece-alive thing, but do they lis­ten? He’s right on both oc­ca­sions, of course, but never gets to say “I told you so”.

Things are no eas­ier for a sooth­sayer try­ing to tell Julius Cae­sar that his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is about to end in some­thing con­sid­er­ably worse than fail­ure. Sadly, all he man­ages is a blurted “Be­ware the ides of March” which, in ret­ro­spect, was never go­ing to cut it with the man who re­designed the cal­en­dar, and on he marches to­wards 23 stab wounds. Such is the frus­tra­tion of those who speak sooth to power.

Stocks in the fu­tures mar­ket

Ed­ward once planned a tele­vised séance with the re­cent vic­tims of 9/11

may have plum­meted as a re­sult, ex­ac­er­bated by the trilling psy­chic Madame Ar­cati, who sum­moned up a dead wife for the ben­e­fit of Noël Cow­ard’s Blithe

Spirit, mak­ing clair­voy­ance no more cred­itable than a campy plot de­vice. By the time David Mamet based a play, The Shawl, on the same pro­fes­sion, the para­nor­mal was widely re­garded as just an­other con – no less crooked than the ma­cho fast-talk­ers sell­ing du­bi­ous real es­tate in Glen­garry Glen Ross, only the balls on th­ese huck­sters were crys­tal. The psy­chics lost their power. They prob­a­bly saw it com­ing. So what hap­pened? This month, John Ed­ward, pre­sen­ter of the US TV show

Cross­ing Over, will per­form four shows at Dublin’s He­lix, all of which sold out long ago. He will be fol­lowed next month by a Liver­pud­dlian coun­ter­part Joe Power. Both men prom­ise to de­liver mes­sages from “those who have passed over” to a pay­ing au­di­ence. Af­ter cen­turies of dis­trust, the psy­chics are sud­denly cen­tre-stage again.

Ed­ward and Power are con­tro­ver­sial am­bas­sadors of the para­nor­mal. Each has strayed into ut­terly sen­si­tive ter­ri­tory. Ed­ward once planned a tele­vised séance with the re­cent vic­tims of 9/11 (it was called off in the face of a pub­lic out­cry) and later acted as a spokesper­son for the soul of the veg­e­ta­tive Terri Schi­avo for the ben­e­fit of Fox News. Power has pre­vi­ously con­veyed a payper-view mes­sage from John Len­non and also moon­lights as a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

Nei­ther have much time for scep­tics, so I doubt they’d want their au­di­ence to bone up on “cold read­ing” – the age-old sys­tem of psy­cho­log­i­cal ruses, misty as­ser­tions, and open state­ments to which ea­ger minds hun­gry for an­swers read­ily re­spond. (“I’m get­ting an ‘R’ … Some­thing to do with can­cer, maybe, or it could be some­thing sud­den … Why am I hear­ing “colon”?”).

Mer­ci­fully, stage psy­chics are now sub­ject to EU reg­u­la­tions, which in­sist that their pow­ers are dis­played “for en­ter­tain­ment pur­poses only”. This tag hon­ours them by im­ply­ing there is an artistry among con artists. Sadly it won’t dis­suade the more im­pres­sion­able, vul­ner­a­ble and grief-stricken au­di­ence mem­bers from des­per­ately seek­ing so­lace in a trumped-up party trick.

The tragedy of the psy­chic on stage is no longer that peo­ple don’t be­lieve them, but that they do.

A fait ac­com­pli at No 1

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