AN ISRAELI arts company has been forced to axe its entire run of performances at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe after facing an angry protest before its first show in the city.
Underbelly, the London promoter which had booked Incubator Theatre into one of its main venues, said it had been reluctantly forced to pull the plug based on police advice.
However, it has vowed to find the company – which is part-funded by the Israeli state – another venue, despite threats from campaigners to continue to disrupt its “hip hop opera” wherever it is staged.
More than 50 leading cultural figures in Scotland have called for the company’s shows to be boycotted, although the stance has been criticised by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.
More than 150 protesters turned up outside Edinburgh University’s Reid Hall before the first preview of Incubator’s production got under way.
Talks were held later with the theatre company, the police and university officials.
A statement from Underbelly said although the first preview performance had gone ahead, the logistics of policing and stewarding the protest and the impact on both Underbelly shows and those in other venues made it impossible for the show to continue.
The statement added: “All tickets for forthcoming performances in the Reid Hall will be refunded. When an alternative venue is found, customers will be able to book tickets for that show separately.”
Announcing the cancellation of the shows at the venue’s gala launch, Underbelly director Charlie Wood said the attempts to stop the company performing were “plain wrong” and went against the entire ethos of the Fringe.
He added: “The protest caused huge disruption to shows we had here and at the Gilded Balloon. If they continued to protest in this area every day for four hours, the festival simply will not happen.”
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: “It was a practical decision based on the whole picture and the disruption to all the other shows that are here.”
John Stalker of Incubator added: “Everybody who supports the right of artists to have their work presented believes the show should carry on. I had friends there who felt very threatened by the protest. Today was a sad day for Edinburgh.”
Albie O’Neill, spokesman for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which was behind the protest, said: “The level of support from the public has been overwhelming and reflects the strength of feeling against this Israeli state-funded theatre company and revulsion over what is happening in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, Fringe promoters are reporting increased ticket sales across the board despite a clash with the second half of the Commonwealth Games.
Underbelly, Assembly Theatre and The Stand are among the big hitters to reveal a boost in sales ahead of the first previews opening last night.
The Fringe is bigger than before this year, with a major new venue in St Andrew Square, and more than 3,000 shows being staged for the first time.