Edinburgh Festival Round Up

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The dramatisation of interviews with people caught up in political events played an increasing part in shows at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

The most prominent of these focus on the military. The play Deep Cut, from Cardiff's Sherman Cymru, centres on interviews with the parents of Cheryl James. James was one of a number of soldiers the military claimed had committed suicide at the barracks. In response to her death other soldiers at Deepcut "were hysterical. A few of them refused to wear the uniform again." They were quickly dispersed and the evidence was ignored. But the families campaigned to expose the military cover-up. The Sherman Cymru group argues that "UK army service remains in effect bonded servitude with no redress for grievances outside the chain of command."

Steve Gilroy's play, Motherland, gives us the voices of women from the north east of England whose relatives have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They tell us of recruitment taking place against a backdrop of pit closures, of the deaths caused by military incompetence and of the military's callous treatment of families. A mother insists, "Our children went out there to fight a war based on lies; an unjust war for political ends."

The play In Conflict dramatises interviews with injured US veterans deeply disturbed by the war. One makes passionate anti-war speeches at demonstrations. Others just get by the best they can. One former private, Harold Noel, has become fixated on the moment he shot an Iraqi woman dead. He thought she might be carrying a bomb, before finding it was a baby that rolled beneath the wheels of a car. Plagued with nightmares, he became homeless and twice tried to kill himself. He says, "I expected to come back from Iraq as a hero, not a zero."

From Santa Barbara came a confident angry performance of Hair, in which actors burned draft cards and picketed recruitment offices. The US flag, at one moment a crucifix, is later a curtain pulled aside to reveal a scene from Abu Ghraib. Protesters scrawl protest slogans over it, and finally march from a stage littered with corpses each wrapped in the flag.

Dead soldiers are the starting point for a US production of Irwin Shaw's classic 1936 play Bury the Dead, in which dead soldiers opposed to the war refuse to be buried. Urged on by a soldier's wife who says, "It's about time all you $18.50 bastards stood up for yourselves," they link arms with the living and begin a march against those in power.

One of the most exciting events at the festival was Pepperdine University's five-hour production of Robert Schenkkan's epic, The Kentucky Cycle. This blistering attack on the mythical "American Dream" follows the struggles of three families over 200 years, taking in the massacre of Native Americans, slavery, civil war and the rise of brutal capitalism. Its second half is an inspiring account of building the United Mine Workers Union, and a sensitive exploration of the clash between organisers and the rank and file.