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`Jesus is gay' play at Fringe

ORGANISERS OF a controversial play portraying Jesus as gay, which opened to a storm of protest last year in America, expect a better reaction next month when the show makes its European debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

On the opening night of Corpus Christi in New York last October 2,000 protesters, mainly right-wing religious extremists, surrounded the theatre chanting hate-filled threats. Theatregoers had to pass an intimidating gauntlet of police officers and security guards. Metal and bomb detectors were installed at the entrance.

A production spokesman said they had some letters of protest over their decision to go to Edinburgh, but ticket sales were going well and they expect the show to be a big hit. He said: "The right wing in America is something to behold, but we don't take religion that seriously here. I don't think there are going to be demonstrations on the streets of Edinburgh. It's an incredibly moving play."

The show will star Coronation Street's Greg Kelly, actor Stephen Billington, as Judas Iscariot. He said he had been "completely knocked out" by the script.

"I urge people not to judge the play before seeing it," he said. "Some will be offended by the very fact that it suggests Jesus and some of his disciples were gay. But it's really about hate crimes and it is not anti-Christian. The show preaches fellowship, love, care, sensitivity and tolerance."

The play, by the Pulitzer Prize winner and four times Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, tells of a Christ-like figure born in a motel room in McNally's home town of Corpus Christi in Texas. It will run from 9 to 28 August, and there are plans to take it to the West End of London.