Silenced Fringe venue plans censorship show

AN EDINBURGH Festival Fringe venue that was forced to cancel performances by Israeli artists last year will host a hard-hitting new show tackling freedom of speech and censorship this summer.

Activists protest against Incubator Theatre Company at Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year. Picture: Lesley Martin

A series of specially commissioned short plays will be performed at Underbelly during the festival.

Eight different writers will address the controversy whipped up last summer when the Fringe was hit by a “cultural boycott” for the first time and police were called to maintain order at a demonstration.

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Underbelly’s directors were furious after being forced to axe a “hip hop opera” from its programme over safety fears for the Israeli performers

However, they have insisted this year’s show, Walking The Tightrope, will reflect all sides of the debate which dominated last year’s Fringe.

The Incubator Theatre Company was only able to stage one performance in Edinburgh after being targeted by more than 100 pro-Palestine campaigners over its funding from the Israeli government.

An open letter signed by more than 50 people, including playwright David Greig, Scotland’s national poet Liz Lochhead and artist Alasdair Gray, had earlier urged Underbelly to cancel the show. Efforts to find a suitable alternative venue for the theatre company drew a blank.

The threat of prolonged anti-Israeli protests, which also led to the withdrawal of a visiting dance company from another venue, was criticised for undermining the principle of freedom of expression and the Fringe’s long-standing “open-access” policy since its creation in 1947.

The performances of Walking The Tightrope will be followed by an after-show discussion. The show will also examine the controversy over an Edinburgh International Festival offering from last year, Exhibit B, which had a subsequent run in London cancelled after its South African director was accused of racism over its “human zoo” content.

The Tricyle Theatre in London was also caught up in controversy after it refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival because of its state funding, a stance that was overturned after protests.

Theatre director Cressida Brown said she had instigated the show because of her conflicted views over last year’s controversies.

She said: “Self-censorship is not a way I like to live. I wanted to get everyone into the room, to be braver as an artist, and respond with a piece of theatre.

Theatre critic Joyce McMillan said: “This initiative should provoke some terrific and much-needed debate this August. The argument over freedom of speech has only intensified since last year’s Edinburgh Festival.”