Mainstream News and Fringe Theatre

Issue section: 
(299)

Edinburgh Fringe Roundup

This year's advance publicity for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe emphasised that 'the war on terror is a central point of inspiration', and plays, musical theatre and dance are all showing the continuing impact of the war.

A number focus on the American torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Two plays imagine the explanation that might be given by Lynndie England, the female US soldier who appeared in some of the pictures of that torture. The Canadian company Volcano's performance of My Pyramids gives us a pregnant Lynndie in uniform, motivated by a combination of racism and a desire to be accepted by violent male soldiers. But a more convincing and dramatically disturbing account of the same woman appears in Peter Morris's Guardians, which draws on interviews with over 40 soldiers. Morris is passionately interested in exploring the psychological process that leads people to carry out terrible deeds on behalf of those in power. He achieves this in Guardians with an extraordinary portrait of Lynndie England as a complex individual who is both tied to and questioning of the existing class structure. The audience is left hating the choices she made but understanding a lot more about the bigger picture.

Among several plays dealing with British soldiers returning from Iraq is Davey Anderson's tense and frightening play Snuff in which soldier Billy, on leave from Iraq, visits his childhood friend Kevin, who is living on a run-down Scottish housing estate. Unfortunately Kevin's paranoid fear of the enemy that threatens Britain has extended way beyond Iraq and the refugees on his estate. It has come to include even his family and friends. He forces Billy to wear a Guantanamo suit, ties him to a chair, and begins to video what increasingly looks like a scene of execution. This is the terrible logic of a world where the powerful try to maintain control by the promotion of nightmare fantasies and scapegoats.

Government terror against Americans is the subject of Peter Sewell's Kafkaesque drama Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. A liberal teacher at a US university is increasingly persecuted by a mysterious agent of the state. This remarkable play uses the thriller as a means of exploring the nature of US power.

Classic Greek drama continues to be used by companies as a persuasive commentary on recent wars. Theatre Cryptic from Glasgow performed a highly stylised modernist version of the play Trojan Women using a translation by Brendan Kennely. It opens with the speech of British commander Tim Collins to troops before the invasion of Iraq. This is followed by the brutal reality of an occupation that kills all the men and consigns the women into slavery. The story unfolds from the point of view of those suffering the occupation.

There are shows at the festival which deal with other political issues. The Exonerated, a documentary drama constructed by Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson from the court records and taped accounts of six people sentenced to death in the US and later found to be innocent. It is a very moving and at times shocking story of police racism and general judicial stupidity.

Fiona Evans's very funny play We Love You Arthur Scargill is set in a northern mining community during the 1984-85 miners' strike. It sensitively follows the attempts of two 15 year old girls to meet Arthur Scargill. We see something of the rifts that develop among families and friends during that struggle to save jobs.

It is not just the Fringe that makes this festival very political. The book festival has also arranged a whole series of political meetings with speakers such as Tariq Ali, Mark Curtis, Dario Fo and Tony Benn. The war is continuing to generate a very political Edinburgh Festival this year.