A prude's nightmare on Princes St

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The Independent Online
IF YOU fancy watching a Jewish Hasidic rap band - the Baddest Dudes from Golders Green - singing about "Kosher Love Sausage", Edinburgh is the place to be this weekend.

You may, instead, prefer Corpus Christi, in which a gay Jesus falls in love with Judas. Alternatively, Organ Origami, by the Jim Rose Circus is demonstrating all the strange shapes that can be made from the male appendage.

Maybe a play outing Charlie Chaplin as a paedophile is more your style. Or, for the existentialists, why not try Do You Come Here Often?, a drama about two men stuck in a bathroom for 25 years.

It is all showing at the Edinburgh Fringe, opening tomorrow, where for three weeks a city that normally eschews window boxes as too flamboyant is being taken over by acts outdoing each other for blasphemy, bawdiness, the bizarre and simple bad taste.

The Fringe, which opens in and around Princes Street a week before the more high-brow International Festival for the second year, is fast upstaging its older sister. With more than 15,000 performances scheduled at 167 venues, it is so busy that representatives of next year's Sydney Olympics are in Edinburgh to learn the organisational lessons.

Controversy is most likely to greet the Baron Brothers, masquerading as the rapping Hampstead Village People. As medallion Stars of David hang beside their long ringlets and beards, these home boys go "one schlep beyond", singing "Sabbath Night Fever".

Likewise Terence McNally's Corpus Christi attracted 2,000 Christian protesters when it opened in New York and bomb detectors had to be installed at the theatre. "My mother keeps asking why I don't do a nice play like Mary Poppins," the director, Stephen Henry, said before the opening in Edinburgh. "The basic message here is that Jesus is for everyone, regardless of race or sexual orientation."

For bawdiness, Edinburgh's thespians rely mainly on past scripts. Shakespeare's Bottom features a list of all the Bard's once-censored favourite euphemisms for "vagina" (peculiar river, nest of spicery), "penis" (three-inch fool, little finger) and "testicles" (billiards, dam-sons). "With so much going on at the festival, audiences need 45 minutes of fun and smut, which is also educational," said Adam Thirlwell, the director.

Meanwhile, expect to be searched frequently during performances of the Exhibitionists, a comedy about art gallery attendants, who variously set fire to exhibits and tear off each other's Y-fronts.

Food is almost as big as sex this year, with carrots, broccoli, oranges and cabbage leaves the central props in four comedy acts. Cookin', from Korea, makes Two Fat Ladies seem tame. The show crosses the martial arts maestro Jackie Chan with Fanny Cradock, and is about four crazy chefs drumming, fighting and juggling their way to a glorious wedding feast.

Shakespeare retains a serious foothold. There are several Macbeths, notably a version in which Lady Macbeth is played by Danni Minogue, sister of Kylie, and star of the Australian television soap, Home and Away. Meanwhile, Macbeth - the Director's Cut focuses on the murders of Macduff's children and draws parallels with the serial killers Rose and Fred West.

Among the best dance is expected to be Gumboots, a show based on the stamping rhythms South Africa's miners used for communication during the apartheid era when they were forbidden to talk.

A highly personal production is being strongly promoted. Written Off is directed by Alice Douglas, daughter of the Marquess of Queensberry and a former drama teacher at Wormwood Scrubs. She directs her husband, Simon Melia, a former prisoner in that jail, in a play about the relationship between a social worker and a prisoner, said to reflect their own love affair. Amid Edinburgh's clamour, such quieter reflections may yet steal the limelight.