Ooh, er. The Fringe is overcome with smut

Shock is its stock-in-trade. But this year's display of sheer naughtiness will challenge even the most liberal mind
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The Independent Online

It's the sexiest Edinburgh Festival ever. Everyone expects the Fringe to shock, but never before has it offered up such a brazen display of nudity, smut and sex.

More than 60 of this year's official Fringe shows have sexual themes, or feature nudity or graphic eroticism.

Among the more outlandish productions to be premiered this week is TalkSexShow, in which festival veteran Paul Davies, posing as a tantric sex guru, will invite members of his audience to join him naked on stage. The show, billed as a "training session in love-making", includes a sequence in which a man and a woman simulate sex acts while dressed in skintight "nude suits".

Also opening this week is The Floating Brothel, a Hogarthian farce about18th-century prostitutes sent to entertain a penal colony at Sydney Cove in Australia. The play features numerous scenes of full-frontal nudity and a narrator who addresses the audience while playing with himself. It has been described by its own promoters as having "more jugs than Jordan" and "more penis than Puppetry" - a reference to the controversial "genital origami" show Puppetry of the Penis, also returning to Edinburgh.

Other shows include The Whore's Tale, in which an actress in a basque and suspenders "romps through the history of whoring" on a heart-shaped bed, and the erotic Dance Japanesque Vagina.

Fringe organisers insist that, whatever their superficial similarities, the majority of the acts performing sexually oriented work will do so in an original and justified way. Some remain to be convinced.

Sir Jonathan Miller, the writer and director who launched his career with the groundbreaking 1960s Cambridge Footlights show Beyond the Fringe, described the reliance on sexual themes as "monotonous".

"What's happened is that the Fringe has become a much more commercial enterprise than ever before, and sex is what is commercial these days," he said.

The former Fringe chairman said the repetitive nature of this year's programme reflected two things: the increasing prurience of the media, and Britain's inability to shake off the obsession with nudity that was satirised by critic Kenneth Tynan's classic 1967 revue Oh! Calcutta!

"It does seem to be rather tiresome," he said. "It's strange that it should still be a preoccupation long after Ken Tynan laboured Calcutta into existence, but it's the same with the media. If it's not cooking or making over people's homes, it's making over people's private parts."

Those responsible for this year's plethora of explicit shows remain unabashed. Mr Davies, whose previous productions have included LOVE, an erotic staging of Shakespeare's sonnets that was banned in America's Bible belt, and a version of Macbeth replacing the eponymous antihero with Fred West, says TalkSexShow is intended to lampoon this obsession.

"The sexualisation of all things in our society is done in an underhand, Machiavellian way, and by not using traditional theatre lighting or giving a typical performance we are trying to say, 'No, let's treat this in a serious, upfront way,'" he said. "The idea is to be more clinical. We want to say, 'Okay, this is a penis. Now does anyone want to come on stage and show us their penis?'"

Mr Davies did, however, concede that his production was likely to attract a certain kind of theatregoer. "We did a one-off trial of this show and it seems that you do tend to get swingers coming along," he said. "You know they're swingers because the women wear impossibly short skirts and the men sit with their legs wide open. One woman climbed up on stage and to my horror I said to her, 'No, I didn't really mean that.' When we do it this time, we're likely to be a lot freer."

Peter Machen, star of The Floating Brothel, admits he toyed with the idea of including live sex in the production. He argues that the show, which is highly explicit, needs to be so in order to make a number of serious historical and sociological points.

"We wanted to turn on its head the notion that people in the 18th century were just animals motivated by basic desires," he said. "We try to draw the audience in with what they think they want, but then go on to give them something with a bit more sensitivity and substance."

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