Edinburgh Fringe

Issue section: 
(317)

Round-up

Nearly half of the politically themed theatre at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe was about war. Performers dressed as US soldiers handed out leaflets urging people to come to Melancholia, an anti-war play from the Los Angeles Latino Theatre Company.

Aaron Garcia, its assistant director, explained, "A large proportion of troops fighting in Iraq are the Latino or African American poor who are little more than mercenaries misled into the forces on the promise of an education or a job."

Their fast, angry, expressionistic performance shows us a sensitive Latino youth leaving the security of his home for a war in which he is ordered to kill unarmed Iraqis, sees his friends die, and returns a broken man. In the final shocking scene the dead demand to know if the audience will do anything to stop the killing.

The Rude Mechanicals staged David Rees's comic strip Get Your War On, reviewing six years of Bush war follies with occasional inserts from the 1980s to remind us that the neocons are only consistent in their imperial ambitions.

The war plays were most effective in simply conveying the waste and horror of war. The verbatim theatre piece Forgotten Voices gave us three ex-soldiers and a soldier's widow sitting in a room of the Imperial War Museum.

They recall their experiences of the First World War, revealing deep scars and class differences. The injustice of a young soldier's execution is the subject of Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, and in Journey's End we are led to empathise with soldiers in a dugout who are sent to certain death by callous generals.

There were also productions dealing with issues such as the growing threat against Iran and the continuing persecution of Muslims. And in Failed States the surreal logic of recent British anti-terror laws is applied to a white US businessman who is subjected to Kafkaesque imprisonment and torture.

Other political shows included Daniel Beaty's Emergence-See!, a passionate and poetical dramatisation of an imagined response of black people in New York to the emergence of a slave ship in the Hudson River alongside the Statue of Liberty.

The festival's most inspiring show was Rikki Beadle-Blair's uplifting, and often very funny, celebration of the 1969 Stonewall riot for gay rights. Matty Dean arrives in New York from a small town in the country, and is soon fired up by the civil rights marches and the Vietnam protests which he believes should be a model for gay struggle. Instead he meets passivity in the face of discrimination and police brutality.

The protest group he joins is so concerned about respectability that it insists on marching in suits. But all this is to change. One hot summer night gays at the Stonewall Inn fight back against the police. They drive them out of the area, with clenched fists in the air, chanting "Gay power". The show is a very effective reminder of why the struggles of the 1960s continue to inspire us.