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2008 Edinburgh Fringe Launches This Weekend

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The 2008 Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, gets under way in the Scottish capital on schedule this weekend - despite a technology crisis that threatened to derail ticketing for thousands of theatregoers (See The Goss, 21 Jul 2008). The 62nd annual event opens this Sunday 3 August 2008 and continues until 25 August, during which time an estimated 18,792 performers from 46 countries will present 31,320 performances of 2,088 shows in 247 venues (See News, 5 Jun 2008).

Theatre makes up 29 percent of this year’s programme. Festival organisers have noted a concentration on topical issues and events shaping contemporary life. The unjust realities of current dictatorships are the focus of I Am Robert Mugabe, Requiem for Robert Mugabe (both, Exit Theatre) and The Burma Play - A Comedy of Terror (Northern International Theatre), which is supported by Amnesty International. The recent phenomenon of Westerners travelling to Iran for cosmetic surgery is the focus of Plastic (30 Bird) and Blue on Blue (Play Ball Theatre) covers the collision of cultures on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The Virginia Tech University massacre is documented in The Boy from Centreville (Central School of Speech and Drama), Columbinus (Syracuse University Drama Department) returns to the horror of the Columbine High School killings and Architecting (TEAM & National Theatre of Scotland Workshop) delivers a requiem for modern America.

Closer to home, Deep Cut (Sherman Cymru) explores the deaths at Deepcut Barracks using dialogue based on testimonies from the investigation. Charlie Victor Romeo (Scamp Theatre in Association sith Mercury Colchester & Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds) goes one step further, using transcripts of real-life black box flight recordings. Pornography (Traverse Theatre Company & Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company) documents the period between London’s successful 2012 Olympic bid and the devastation of the 7/7 bombings.

Amongst the typically innovative Edinburgh audience experiences this year are: Scavengers (Joshua Sofaer/Escalator East To Edinburgh) where participants contribute to a unique exhibition after 40 teams follow the lead on clues across the city; Death by Chocolate (IMMI HQ), an interactive chocolate-tasting murder mystery; the Liar Show (Liarshow), in which audiences listen to four storytellers and decide which one is telling the truth; The Factory (Badac Theatre Company/Escalator East to Edinburgh in association with the Pleasance), which takes place in a cellar and conveys the experience of the Auschwitz/Birkenau gas chambers; The Caravan (Look Left Look Right), staged in a tiny caravan and conveying the plight of thousands of British people still living in temporary housing after the floods of 2007.

Audiences will be separated into different categories in Beautiful People (Don\'t Travel Economy) (Cattle Class Box Office & Robert Yule) and into different job roles at Office Party (Underbelly Productions and Assembly), two shows where the line between performers and audience is blurred. From interaction to voyeurism, Supper (Puppet Lab) allows people to eavesdrop, through headphones, on the thoughts of two couples at a dinner party.

Other theatre highlights include runs for Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress, Steven Berkoff’s stage adaptation of screen classic On the Waterfront, and the premiere stage version of Carl Hiaasen’s comic novel Lucky You, ahead of planned London transfers. Additional big names taking part in this year’s Fringe include Michael Barrymore (reviving his performance as Spike Milligan in Surviving Spike), Jill Halfpenny, Ruby Wax, Simon Callow, Britt Ekland and Leonard Nimoy (aka Star Trek’s Spock).

For the first time this year, four of the leading Fringe venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – have joined forces to create a “festival-within-a-festival” at the Fringe, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, to showcase their 253 stand-up contributions to this year’s event. Another first for 2008 includes the creation of the festival’s first-ever dedicated musicals venue, the Musical Theatre @ George Square, where a total of 29 musicals will be mounted over the three weeks. Amongst these are the world premiere of Matthew Brind’s Second World War-set musical romance starring reality TV stars Keith Jack (Any Dream Will Do) and Niamh Perry (Only the Brave).

Jon Morgan, director of the Fringe, commented at June’s programme launch: “The wide range of shows that connect with current issues in our world demonstrates that the Fringe is an incredibly flexible platform for artists. The Fringe was founded on the principle of open-access for all performers and it continues to be the best place to showcase new work.” Of this year’s programme, 40 percent are world premieres.

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 8 to 31 August 2008), the Edinburgh Fringe, the Military Tattoo, the Film Festival and the Book Festival - of which the Fringe is, by far, the largest, representing 75 percent of the overall festival market share and annually generated around £75 million for the local economy.

To access the full 2008 Edinburgh Fringe programme – including its wide range of comedy, music, dance, opera, children’s shows and other events - visit the festival website. In the aftermath of the central ticketing system problems and the backlog they created, theatregoers who have not yet purchased tickets are advised to buy and collect them directly from the relevant venue box office rather than the main Fringe box office.

- by Terri Paddock



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