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« on: August 10, 2006, 09:34:16 AM »

Edinburgh Fringe puts faith in religious satire

By Paul Majendie Wed Aug 9, 7:38 AM ET

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Playwrights and comedians at the world's largest arts festival have boldly marched into the minefield of religious extremism this year to explode myths and destroy taboos.
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Little is off limits for artists at the Edinburgh Fringe, with a record 50 shows about religion, covering Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Tackling faith has become a tempting challenge after the government introduced the Racial and Religious Hatred Act which sought to give all faiths equal protection, but was condemned by comedians such as Rowan Atkinson who feared it would turn satire into a criminal offence.

Despite its frivolous side, The Fringe has always reflected society's concerns.

"Petrol Jesus Nightmare," a dark play about two Israeli soldiers holed up under fire, is among the most prescient plays.

"The current situation certainly does make certain lines in the play shattering," said Philip Howard, artistic director of the Traverse Theater.

"The playwright Henry Adam doesn't spare any of the world's faiths in his onslaught. All religions ask you to kill in God's name."

"Mary and The Stripper" stretches across two millennia, contrasting the tales of Mary Magdalene and a 21st-century stripper hooked on heroin.

South African playwright Michelle van Rensburg said: "People have always been searching. It has just come to the fore. But I must say there are an awful lot of Jesuses at this year's Fringe.

"But there is so much done in the name of God that is blasphemous. It does get me down when these stand-up comedians blaspheme all the time."

Abie Philbin Bowman, whose one-man show "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years" is playing to sell-out houses, says comedy can be an effective weapon if used responsibly.

He plays Jesus, a bearded Middle Eastern man arrested by U.S. immigration officials and sent to the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba after confessing he was ready to die as a martyr.

"Being Irish and having grown up in the 1980s I have a sense of my own culture having been hijacked by terrorists and people assuming all Irish were terrorists," he said.

Portraying Jesus as a stand-up comedian returning to earth on a comeback tour, he said: "I am flying the flag for religious satire."

He said Jews had developed an incredible siege mentality after 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust "and now they are surrounded by people who want to destroy them."

He added: "You have got to try and understand where they are coming from sympathetically and try to show them they are sowing the seeds of their own future destruction."

On the other side of the religious coin, "We Don't Know Shi'ite" uses vox pops conducted by a troupe of young actors in the streets of Britain to highlight ignorance about Islam.

"Start talking -- that's our message," said the play's director Joshua Blackstone.

"Britain could work so much better as a multi-ethnic society if people were more open-minded. We could put to rest the stereotypes if there is more understanding," he added.

"The arts are absolutely necessary in bringing change into society."

Edinburgh Fringe puts faith in religious satire

And I don't believe God is amused.

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