Peter Crawley has a vision of stage psychics
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