Fuming over ban
THE Fringe�s reputation for cutting-edge performance art is being jeopardised by the council�s “hysterical” attitude to health and safety, it was claimed today.
Performer Mark Borkowski launched a scathing attack on city officials after being refused permission to use a chainsaw in his act at the council-owned Assembly Rooms.
Managers say they were simply following council health and safety guidance.
Surprisingly, however, their concern centred on the fact that the chainsaw in question was fuelled by petrol, which “could create smoke”, rather than any more obvious fears about the dangers of wielding a “live” chainsaw in a confined space filled with people.
In fact, another act at the same venue is allowed to use a switched-on chainsaw in its performance because the machine is “battery operated”.
The Fringe is renowned as a showcase for extreme acts, most notoriously the now disbanded circus act Archaos, which thrilled crowds with chainsaw jugglers.
Borkowski, whose show Son of Barnum: A Stunt Too Far is part tribute to such infamous past acts, is furious that his 2004 debut turned out to be so aptly named.
He said: “It is hysterical. I think the council . . . want to encase the whole Edinburgh Festival in one giant condom for safety. I was going to have a running chainsaw and I wanted to run towards people with it but when I went to start it up they said: �You can�t do that.�
“I tried to compromise by offering to take the blade out but they would not let me use it until I had taken the chain out and it was fully disabled. They said petrol and performance don�t mix. It�s the Fringe, it�s supposed to be about excitement. I�m a 45-year-old man. I�m not in a drug-fuelled frenzy.
“I had planned the chainsaw as a surprise for the audience and in the end I just had to have it on stage, disabled, and tell them what I had wanted to do.”
Borkowski, who arrived in Edinburgh last Monday to perform his week-long show, also claimed that he was banned from setting his chest hair on fire – something venue managers deny.
Today, John Haze, the “undead ringmaster” of fellow act Circus of Horrors, which was borne out of Archaos, agreed that “political correctness about health and safety was going a bit mad at the moment”.
But he added: “We have had no problems with health and safety issues ourselves when we have performed at the Fringe.”
Responding to Borkowski�s complaint, a spokeswoman for the Assembly Rooms said: “All he was told was that if he wanted to use it he would not be able to if it was petrol-driven because that could cause smoke and set off smoke alarms. He could have used a battery-operated chainsaw.
“We are not aware of him wanting to set his chest hair alight.”
Meanwhile, the council denied being overzealous. Councillor Brian Fallon, executive member for business and property management, said: “The Assembly Rooms had legitimate concerns about the effect that fumes from a petrol-fuelled chainsaw used in an enclosed space could have on an audience.
“If the performer was aiming to set his hair alight, we would have the same concerns.”
The “other” chainsaw act at the Assembly Rooms, Dual, features a musician threatening a rival player with a running chainsaw, which he then switches off and uses to play a cello.