The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anarchy art in age of terror

Edinburgh, Aug. 7 (Reuters): In what promises to be the most political Edinburgh Fringe for decades, the world’s largest and most anarchic arts festival is set to tackle terrorism head on after the London bombings.

Over the next three weeks the Fringe will see 27,000 performances. “Everyone wants to talk about the war on terror,” director Paul Gudgin said.

“This is the most politicised Fringe since the Seventies,” he added.

The festival opens just weeks after last month’s London train and bus attacks, which killed four suicide bombers and 52 other people, and a few days after al Qaida’s latest warning of more to come.

Comedians and performers will be eager to push the boundaries with plays about prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail, Terrorist! The Musical and an opera about a would-be suicide bomber.

“But sensitivities are certainly more acute this year,” Gudgin said. “One journalist asked me if shows should be cancelled because of terrorist references. Absolutely not. It is absolutely right that what is covered in newspapers and on television should be covered in the arts.”

However, performers will have to tread a fine line now that Britain is in the front line of the war on terrorism.

“They will have to think through their scripts and make their own judgments just as newspaper editors and TV producers do,” Gudgin said.

Ninety musicals are being staged this year, the highest number ever.

The subjects range from Michael Jackson’s obsessive fans to the notorious serial killer the Yorkshire Ripper. Also on offer is The Brighter Side of Alzheimer’s.

One critic put it in the Times: “This looks set to be the usual eclectic mix of talent, talk, sex, violence and plain rubbish.”

Quality control is never a top priority at the madcap Fringe, rowdy offshoot of the official high arts festival of classical music, ballet and theatre.

The Fringe, which runs until August 29, brings 70 million pounds a year into the economy of the Scottish capital, with 400,000 people buying more than 1.25 million tickets to its shows.

The British even drop their traditional reserve. People talk to each other in theatre and comedy club queues, comparing notes on the shows that become overnight hits or misses through word of mouth.

”I love this connection between audience, performers and critics,” Gudgin said.“We are the Olympics of the arts ' this is a career-defining moment. It is a real meeting of the minds but with much more alcohol and very much less sleep.”

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