The first round of winners of the prestigious Fringe First Awards are announced today (8 August 2003) in Edinburgh, where the prizes will be presented this evening to five productions.

Several of the winning productions bear thematic links to September 11th, though one recounts another real-life event that took place two decades before the terrorist act. Boy Steals Train tells the true story of 15-year-old Darius McCollum who, in 1981, stole a New York subway train and drove it into the World Trade Center. Devised and performed by New York's 78th Street Theatre Lab, it's at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.

At the Traverse Theatre, a second Fringe First goes to The People Next Door (pictured), the latest play by Henry Adam, whose previous Traverse hit, Among Unbroken Hearts, transferred to London's Bush Theatre in May 2001. "If the events of September 11th changed everybody's life forever, somebody forgot to tell Nigel," says the show's marketing blurb. Described as a multi-cultural farce, The People Next Door explores what happens when someone else's global problem becomes your local one.

Addressing the post-September 11th consequences, Pugilist Specialist, at the Pleasance Courtyard, presents the drama of American soldiers on the hunt for evil in foreign lands. It's the latest piece from 24-year-old writer and director Adriano Shaplin and his San Francisco-based Riot Group. Last year, their Victory at the Dirt Palace, a King Lear transplanted to the cut-throat world of broadcast journalism, was a double Fringe First winner which later transferred to London's Riverside Studios.

Two more Fringe First awards went this week to physical theatre specialists Fabrik Company for their devised piece about two men trapped in a box, Pandora 88, at St Stephens; and to Fringe stalwarts Grid Iron for their latest site-specific offering Those Eyes, That Mouth, alternatively titled Or How to Be Alone.

The Fringe First Awards, presented by The Scotsman newspaper in conjunction with the Fringe Society, are the festival's most prestigious recognition for drama. They were established in 1973 when there was concern that the Fringe was not attracting the right quantity and quality of shows. The awards are announced weekly during the festival. There is no fixed number given and the only requirement for consideration is that the work must be new - having had no more than six performances in the UK, prior to the Fringe.

The Edinburgh Fringe, the world's largest arts festival and now in its 57th year, continues to 25 August 2003.

- by Terri Paddock