Israeli Fringe show closed by protests returns to festival

Incubator performers mime their production as a reponse to being silenced by protests in Edinburgh in 2014
Incubator performers mime their production as a reponse to being silenced by protests in Edinburgh in 2014
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An Israeli theatre company forced to cancel its show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe three years ago because of political protests is to return to the event for the first time this year.

Incubator Theatre was targeted by anti-Israeli protesters in 2014 because it received funding from the Israeli government. The company was able to stage just one performance before its venue pulled the plug on safety grounds.

The group, which is supported by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, accused the Fringe of “giving up” on the company and handing victory to “political gladiators” who vowed to try to halt performances.

But its “whodunnit hip opera” The City, which was believed to be the first Fringe show to be cancelled due to political pressure, will be back in Edinburgh next month as part of a celebration of Israeli culture.

The three-day International Shalom Festival, which will be staged at a high school in Edinburgh, has been backed by the leaders of Scotland’s three main political parties.

Three years ago more than 50 leading cultural figures, including playwright David Greig, poet Liz Lochhead and artist and novelist Alasdair Gray, put their names to an open letter calling for the show to be scrapped for the “brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza”.

Promoters Underbelly pulled the plug on The City after more than 150 protesters turned up to the preview performance.

Arik Eshet, Incubator’s artistic director, said: “I felt the whole thing was a crime against artistic expression and freedom of speech. It was shameful for the Fringe, the police and the council in Edinburgh. We haven’t had problems putting the show on anywhere else. It’s now been on tour in the Czech Republic, Georgia, Russia and Poland.

“The organisers of the International Shalom Festival insisted we come back this year. We want to right the wrong and state our rights to perform anywhere.”

Nine performances are planned of The City, a “mesmerising musical tale of vanity, lust and murder,” which is the flagship theatre production at the International Shalom Festival, a celebration of “working together for peace in the Middle East”.

A spokesman for the festival said: “It aims to build cultural bridges between Israel, Scotland and the wider UK by showcasing inspirational examples of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Contributors will explain how their work in Israel reflects a commitment to universal human rights, and how it builds trust and cooperation, leading to enhanced religious, racial and community harmony, and peace.”

In a message to the festival First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We recognise the importance of the International Shalom Festival in promoting peaceful coexistence and I wish you all the very best for a successful event.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also gave their support to the festival. Davidson said she was “proud of the fact that it allows, Scots to show they support a path to peace which rejects the demonisation of any group.”

Shalom Festival, 8-10 August, Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh