The 2006 Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, gets under way in the Scottish capital this weekend (See News, 8 Jun 2006). The 60th annual event opens this Sunday 6 August 2006 and continues until 28 August, during which time an estimated 16,990 performers in 261 venues will present 28,014 performances (94 percent more than a decade ago) of 1,867 shows, more than a third of which are world premieres.

On faith & Iraq

Theatre once again proves the festival’s most popular art form, comprising 32% of the programme with many new shows this year tackling issues of faith, world religion and the situation in Iraq. Amongst the faith-related plays: Henry Adam’s latest Petrol Jesus Nightmare #5 (Traverse Theatre Company) is an apocalyptic thriller; Mary and the Stripper (M+E Productions) compares a modern-day girl’s life to that of Mary Magdalene; We Don’t Know Shi’ite (WMD Theatre) investigates how much the British public really know about Islam; in Devil’s Advocate (Mercury Theatre Company/Escalator East to Edinburgh), the Vatican’s Archbishop traps and breaks General Noriega in Panama; The Black Jew Dialogues (StageCoach Productions) offer a comical examination of the American Black-Jew experience; and at Old Saint Paul’s Church as part of Bible Babel Live!, the Bible will be read in 80 hours over ten days in English, Greek and Chinese. Revivals of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell also feature in the musical theatre line-up.

Turning their attention to the situation in the Middle East are: Black Watch, Gregory Burke’s new verbatim play for the National Theatre of Scotland based on interviews with Black Watch soldiers who served in Iraq; Girl Blog from Iraq: Baghdad Burning, regularly updated from an anonymous web log by a 25-year-old Iraqi woman; and What I Heard About Iraq, compiled from the words of politicians, soldiers and civilians involved in the conflict.

Other theatre highlights

Elsewhere in the theatre programme, other notable productions include: Whatsonstage.com Award winner Caroline O'Connor playing Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s new play End of the Rainbow; Mel Smith as Winston Churchill in Allegiance, concerning the relationship between Churchill and Michael Collins; Guy Jones’ new comedy Marlon Brando’s Closet, starring Les Dennis and Mike McShane; Tim Fountain's stage adaptation of the cult film classic Midnight Cowboy; Talk Radio, Stewart Lee's first directorial outing since Jerry Springer The Opera; My Name Is Rachel Corrie straight from the West End directed by Alan Rickman; new plays by leading American playwrights Edmund White (Terre Haute) and John Kolvenbach (Gizmo Love); and Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv (adults only version and kids’ version!).

Commenting on the 2006 festival programme, Edinburgh Fringe director Paul Gudgin said: “It is always interesting when particular issues come to the fore in the Fringe programme - at the 2002 Fringe we felt a massive response to September 11, while in 2005 the War on Terror was a central point of inspiration for many shows. This year, I’m fascinated to see so many shows addressing faith and religion; clearly it’s a very personal subject that artists and writers currently feel a particular need to explore."

Turning 60

In celebration of the 60th year of the Fringe, a special exhibition Fringe: 60 Years, 60 Photos will be on free public display at the Princes Mall throughout the festival. A 60th celebration will be held at the Edinburgh Castle, while the annual Fringe Sunday, involving some 200 acts performing free, will take place on 13 August 2006.

More than half a million people plan their August holidays each year around a trip to Edinburgh. Though commonly seen as one single festival, the event is in reality several different festivals - the main ones being the original Edinburgh International Festival (running this year from 13 August to 3 September 2006), the Edinburgh Fringe, the Military Tattoo, the Jazz Festival, the Film Festival and the Book Festival - of which the Fringe is, by far, the largest.

To access the full 2007 Edinburgh Fringe programme - as well as online booking - visit the festival website.

- by Terri Paddock