During this year’s Fringe, there was a spot of trouble in paradise. Layton Williams, a 23-year-old actor and performer, was messily expelled from the Assembly George Square Gardens. The angel with the flaming sword had apparently mistaken Williams for an intruder who had broken into the venue two weeks beforehand. Williams, who is of mixed race, claimed that he was the victim of “racial profiling.” He believed that the venue’s security staff had honed in on him purely because he has brown skin. Assembly Festival was soon suing for terms and the matter seems to have been since cleared up to Williams’ satisfaction.
This is his side of the story. Any sensible child will know that you need to hear both sides before you can come to a judgment. With the Assembly Gardens altercation, however, we have access to only a single, unsatisfactory half. So shouldn’t people hesitate, or even refrain from commenting outright, when the reputation of one of our major Fringe venues is at stake? And particularly when the complainant appears to be just one big moan? Days after his Fringe debacle, Williams was on Twitter condemning Airbnb because he was locked out of his flat and HBSC because he was locked out of his bank account. He gives the impression that he could not tie up his shoelaces without breaking his ankle and hobbling off to Twitter to blame Clarks.
Almost as a reflex, Williams had gone first to Twitter. When you study the exact timeline, he had filmed a video showing the unblurred faces of the security staff and making accusations against them. Next he had reported the staff to the police (who had promised to talk to them). Third on his list was approaching the actual venue, but only publicly and as another opportunity to parade his indignation on Twitter about their “horrifically rude, uncooperative and quite frankly, abusive” behaviour. Next he had retweeted reports from the BBC, the Guardian, and the Metro as gleaming evidence of his new, victimhood-enhanced celebrity status.
Twitter reacted with its normal calm wisdom. Beverley Knight – the Beverley Knight – chipped in with a merry, “All involved need sacking.” As if on cue, a choir of identical voices crescendoed bloodcurdlingly: “that female member of staff who gave you the finger needs to be fired”; “I hope they all get fired!!; “I hope that girl that [sic] gave him the middle finger in his video got fired”; “Hopefully if the individuals involved are fired, there will be no repeat.” For some, it was not enough that individuals might lose their homes and livelihoods. The security company had to be stripped of its contract, so that even employees who were off sick or on holiday would be punished. Finally, the Ku Klux Klan got in touch with Layton. They said that whilst they disagreed with him on the disadvantages of racial profiling, his leadership of a lynch mob was exceptional and industry-leading. When could he start?
This is simply not how you behave. If ever your rights are injured at the Fringe, you should pursue the matter quietly and diplomatically, sending private emails to the management and exerting all of your charm to open doors. If none of this works then, sure, play to the gallery. Yet to publish images of security staff who work prominently in public view, and who have been not found through any legal disciplinary process to have done anything wrong, should be viewed for what it is: a faux pas, a misstep, a clumsy abuse of power by an immature young popinjay. Threatening people’s livelihoods should be never considered justified even when the prospects for self-promotion are irresistible.
I feel so defensive about the Assembly Gardens altercation because the customer service that I have experienced across the entire Fringe this year has been as spotless as a sunbeam. Whenever you visit any venue, the door staff are always courteous; the box office staff smile and repeat the forty-thousandth “no latecomers, refunds or exchanges” warning of the day without any visible boredom; the floor staff deftly preside over queuing systems so complex that they make Waterloo Station look like a toy train set; the tech staff harness their incredible skill and precision; and even the bar staff try to look interested in pouring your personal pint for you. At the top, the Fringe has a universe of creative talent and skill to pride itself on, and this is fulsomely complemented lower down by the discipline, organisation and hospitality amongst the venue staff. But you see this so often that it has been long worn away to invisibility.
Nobody should be put off from coming to the Fringe by uncorroborated accusations that are published on Twitter. The Fringe is a massively respectful and open environment. Whatever had happened to Williams during the specific incident in Assembly Gardens, his ultimately implied picture of racism lurking at the Fringe is a slander.