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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Palindrome Fight

Mark Saltveit and Anthony Etherin

Genre: Comedy, Game Show, Spoken Word

Venue: PBH Free Fringe @ Kilderkin


Low Down

An endearingly eclectic mix of the history of palindromes, top tips on how to create them and the curious examples you can generate from a random audience.


Mark Saltveit must be famous, right?  I mean, he’s got his own Wiki page.  He’s a former world champion.  He’s the subject of an award-winning documentary, one that headlined the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament back in 2015. (You didn’t see that?  Shame on you.)  And that doyen of the film industry, Vince Clemente, is rumoured to have produced a filmography focusing on the unique skills behind Saltveit’s rise to stardom.  (You missed that too?  Where have you been?)

Saltveit has been described as the “king of palindromes” for good reason – he was the inaugural winner of the World Palindrome Championships back in 2012, played out before a live audience of nearly a thousand people.

Whilst he hasn’t quite managed to attract that number of word nerds to the Kilderkin pub down at the bottom of the Royal Mile for this, his debut at the World’s biggest arts festival, the handful of us that were curious enough to rock up were treated to an energetic hour that combined wordy stand-up with an impeccably researched history into the art form that is the palindrome.

It’s an hour that stands out as one of the geekier bits of entertainment available at this year’s Fringe.  I mean, did you know that palindromes have been around for thousands of years?  That Sotades the Obscene is widely credited with having invented the form?  That today’s rappers borrow heavily from the metering Sotades used in his material?  That palindromes led indirectly to the development of Polari, a form of slang often used as a secret language by people in theatres and adopted by some gay people in the 20th century, including the characters Jules and Sandy from Round The Horne in the 1960’s?  There you are – maybe palindromes and palindromists are more mainstream than they are given credit for.

But “niche” doesn’t adequately capture the wonderfully wacky nature of this quintessentially Fringe offering.  Saltveit sure knows how to entertain, how to engage and retain an audience, potentially quite a challenge given the subject matter in hand.  And, as you might expect, throw a couple of words, a phrase, a name at him and he’ll instantly come back with some palindromic ideas.  Getting the audience involved by having them come up with their own palindromes works well too.

This being late on in the Fringe, Saltveit’s panellists and fellow palindromers had fled to pastures new, leaving him to hold the fort on his own (which he did admirably) but what was already an amusing hour might have been enhanced by the presence of other fertile minds.   Perhaps also, when/if Saltveit returns next year, he might consider going for an afternoon “tea-time” slot which might appeal more to his potential core demographic of crossword puzzlers.

All things considered, this is a good show, with a lot to recommend it.  And it’s (probably) another world-first for Saltveit – the first show dedicated exclusively to palindromes at the Fringe.