Paedophile play given premiere after church kicks it out

An unholy row involving a Tory councillor, the Church of Scotland and a play about a German paedophile ended yesterday when its British premiere was finally played out in front of an audience of 14.

After The Child-Killer: Portrait of Paedophile was banned from its original church venue, the play had its first airing and joined the list of controversies that mark the celebrated history of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The play had been due to open at midnight on Sunday at the Kirk O'Field in the centre of the city, but after a burst of indignation from parishioners, the hosts performed a swift about-turn, prompting a desperate hunt for a new venue.

The play, written from letters and documents, tells the true story of Jürgen Bartsch, a paedophile who killed four children as a teenager in Germany.

He groomed the boys, aged between 8 and 13, and kept them captive in a cave before butchering them. The play tells of his tortured childhood, his own history of being abused and the mixture of joy and remorse he took in the savage killings. The killer died in the 1970s.

A group of Cambridge University students, the Lebenstraum Theatre Company, arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday and were told they were no longer welcome at the church.

Oliver Reese, the playwright, said he was amazed that a venue at such a cutting-edge festival had banned the piece, which had played to acclaim in theatres across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Speaking from Berlin, from where he has followed the row, he said: "The play doesn't give him any forgiveness."

The ban followed complaints from Alastair Paisley, a Conservative councillor at Edinburgh City Council. Ian Maxwell, the church minister, was not available for comment.

The Pleasance Theatre Trust, a few hundred yards from the church, has agreed to take on the play.

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