Lockerbie play draws attention at Edinburgh Fringe

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“It’s not just about the evidence,” Benson said. “It’s about his personal tragedy, his loss and how he’s dealt with his grief.”

Controversy is nothing new for the Fringe, which began in 1947 as a democratic alternative to the high-toned Edinburgh International Festival.

Entry is open to anyone who can put together a show, find a venue and pay a one-off fee. The result is a smorgasbord of performance that ranges from the unpalatable to the delicious.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Fringe played host to the taboo-breaking comedians of Beyond the Fringe and the future Monty Python team. It soon became the crucible of countless careers, including those of Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and “House” star Laurie, all members of the Cambridge University troupe that won the festival’s comedy prize in 1981.

Acclaimed and contentious shows in recent years include the trash-talking “Jerry Springer: the Opera,” which drew protests from Christians, and Gregory Burke’s powerful Iraq war drama “Black Watch.”

Today the Fringe _ alongside the smaller international, book and jazz festivals _ dominates the city for three weeks each August, drawing 750,000 visitors and 20,000 performers, from high school drama groups to established stars.

Their shows run from Shakespeare to sketch comedy, from a Roman-themed musical _”togas collide with Lil Jon and the Backstreet Boys” _ to presidential musical “Obama Mia” and a standup show by New York City comedian-cum-yoga instructor Abigoliah Schamaun.

“It is incredibly competitive,” said festival chief executive Kath Mainland. “Everybody is looking for the next big thing.”

The schedule includes shows from 40 countries, and big names such as Eddie Izzard, Alan Cumming and Thompson, who is backing “Emma Thompson Presents: Fair Trade,” a hard-hitting look at sex trafficking.

On a lighter note, the “Glee”-inspired choir revival has inspired several singalong shows, while “Festival in the Sky” hoists ticketholders into the air around a table laid with a meal of smoked Scottish salmon, venison and local cheeses.

The Fringe has its critics, including some locals, who complain of the disruptive tourist hordes. Some say the festival is too big, too expensive and too focused on comedy, which accounts for more than a third of shows.

That has not slowed its growth _ this year’s festival is the biggest ever. But it is entering an era of uncertainty.

Britain’s new coalition government is preparing to slash arts funding _ and other public spending _ in a bid to reduce the swollen national deficit. Many worry this will end more than a decade of rich funding that saw an explosion of creativity in Britain’s arts.

Organizers won’t give details of ticket sales, but say the Fringe generates 75 million pounds ($120 million) a year for the Scottish economy.

“We live in straitened and uncertain economic times,” Mainland said. “But we are cautiously optimistic that this will be a good year.”

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