Sectarianism takes stage in Edinburgh Fringe show

THE scourge of sectarianism in Scotland is to take centre-stage during this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe – with the premiere of a new musical tackling the controversial issues it throws up.
Sectarianism has been less prominent in headlines since the shelving of Old Firm matches. Picture: PASectarianism has been less prominent in headlines since the shelving of Old Firm matches. Picture: PA
Sectarianism has been less prominent in headlines since the shelving of Old Firm matches. Picture: PA

John and Gerry Kielty, the award-winning brothers behind some of the songs for the hit Glasgow Girls musical, draw on centuries of religious conflict in Scotland for their brand new show, The Onion of Bigotry.

The pair will turn the nation’s long-running battles with bigotry into a “historical musical comedy”. Both tour guides in Edinburgh’s Old Town, they will delve into the capital’s history to explore how deep divisions were sown by key episodes such as the Reformation in the 16th century, and “peeling back the layers of bigotry” which have dogged the country since.

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The show is also inspired by their childhood experiences of sectarianism growing up in both Clydebank and Cumbernauld, where they were raised as Catholics. They have also described the production as an exploration of the “elusive dark secret that is sectarianism”, which will also challenge “assumed history” and “myths” perpetuated by both sides of the religious divide.

Anti-bigotry campaigners said the show promised to bring fresh insight to the issue of sectarianism, which has been less prominent in the headlines since the shelving of Old Firm matches between Rangers and Celtic over the last two years, with the historic rivals in different divisions of Scottish football.

The Onion of Bigotry will be staged during the Fringe as part of the Just Festival, previously known as the Festival of Peace and Spirituality, which this year has the themes of “home, freedom and forgiveness”.

John Kielty said much of the inspiration for the show came from his school days, when he was beaten up for being more interested in Dr Who than supporting Celtic.

He told The Scotsman: “I was quite bullied at school. I think a lot of it was down to the fact I had no interest in football. It made me resent my school friends, as Celtic seemed more important to them than church.

“Petty religious differences should be water under the bridge by now given Scotland’s enlightened and creative reputation – but bigotry remains, in the pub, on the street, and in newspapers. It turns up in surprising places and needs to be challenged and we want to see if we can do that.”

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The brothers’ musical will be one of three productions tackling sectarianism in Scotland, which have been funded to the tune of £52,000 by the Scottish Government as part of its efforts to curb bigotry at the grassroots. The other two shows, plays Warrior and Such a Nice Girl, will look at the impact of hatred and bigotry online, for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Just Festival director Katherine Newbigging said: “With the independence referendum coming up, we’re looking at the kind of Scotland we want to have and we think now is a good chance for us to tackle sectarianism.”

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• The Onion of Bigotry is at St John’s Church, Princes Street, 1-25 August.