EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: How to kill a show

Please don't sicken the sponsor.
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The Independent Culture
THE FRINGE, which was once the preserve of crash-and-burn amateurism, has become a serious business. The major venues are now covered in more sponsorship logos than a Formula One driver. But quite where the sponsors' interest lies is not so easy to gauge.

Myra and Me, a new play by Diane Dubois, was programmed to play at the Gilded Balloon, when the sponsors, Calders, concerned about the nature of the material, decided to pull the show after weeks of tabloid pressure which was condemned as "sick". In time-honoured style, few of those condemning the play had seen it or read the script - all they knew was that Hindley's name was in the title.

In the event, the play is a rather moral tale about a group of Hull media students and their reactions to the Moors Murders 30 years on. Compared to some of the other entertainments at the Gilded Balloon, Myra and Me is tame stuff; in the last week I have heard countless Diana jokes, songs about prison rape and routines about paedophilia. From a man with the firecracker up his behind to the play about baking somebody's head in the oven after anally raping them, they are all available at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Such freedom of speech is the central point of the Fringe festival; this is the biggest arts event in the world. As Dubois says "if you can't do it in Edinburgh, where can you do it?" It is this sense of freedom which attracts the sponsors, but while most sponsors seem content to let their venue control the programme, Calders has shown that while it wants to be a rebel by association, it is not prepared to cope with the consequences. They had neither seen the play, nor read the script.

Earlier this year comedian Owen O'Neill had his show pulled from a festival of Irish comedy by the sponsors, Guinness, when they discovered that it discussed his alcoholism. The arts are increasingly dependent on sponsorship; but when the arts can be censored by multinational corporations, we are entering worrying times.

`Myra and Me' has transferred to The Assembly Rooms (0131-226 2428)