Tom Binns is on another winner with Montfort. Picture: Jane Barlow
After "psychic medium" Joe Power was roundly booed during the Assembly Rooms 30th anniversary gala, Sunderland's celebrity séance specialist Ian D Montfort might seem to be taking a big chance with his Fringe debut.
Ah, you might counter, but Montford is simply the latest comic character from if.comedy-nominated Ivan Brackenbury creator Tom Binns, while Marc Wooton has previously enjoyed television exposure in the UK and US as spoof psychic Shirley Ghostman.
Both true. Yet while Montford is every bit as high concept and immediately enjoyable as Brackenbury, the hapless hospital radio DJ, Binns takes far greater risks with this new character.
Firstly, he's trained with regular Fringe mentalist Phillip Escoffey to contrive genuinely impressive feats of mind-reading, "contacting" late celebrities but also deceased relatives of the audience - the disparity between his comically blatant sleights of charlatanism and the real emotions evoked are oddly touching. The audience's willingness to get involved foregrounds his skill at walking this tightrope and their awareness that, to an extent, you get back what you invest in this show.
Secondly, although I don't doubt there's a significant degree of suggestion and coercion, there's still a sizeable element of unpredictability in this hour for Binns. He demonstrates an exceptional capacity to ad-lib and remain in character, even when a mask of sorts seems to slip and he betrays detailed familiarity with the Sunderland Psycho's prostitute murders. Naturally enough, he derives a tremendous amount of fun from simply establishing some ridiculous set-pieces, such as an iPhone-compatible trick. And I daresay some of the deceased celebrities return every day.
But this is undoubtedly a show worth catching a second time, with Montfort and his spirit guide Geoff deserving development for a television audience.