Pill inventor centre stage at the Fringe

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The Independent Online
A BRILLIANT scientist, best known as the inventor of the contraceptive pill, is to inject a spark of scientific controversy into the wit and drama of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Carl Djerassi, 74, has written his first play, which opened last night as the festival season gets under way.

And as the fringe opens officially this weekend, it has been saved from a funding crisis - and major holes in the programme - by a last-minute deal.

Professor Djerassi hopes An Immaculate Misconception, about a woman scientist who wants to get pregnant using her own revolutionary in-vitro fertilisation technique, will provoke the kind of debates last seen in theatre when David Mamet challenged political correctness in Oleanna.

"If I wrote an article about it, a lot of people would not read it. So I decided I would write a play about it," said Professor Djerassi, who has come to Edinburgh from his home near San Francisco for the premiere.

"I, as a scientist, worked obsessively to prevent the creation of new life through ordinary intercourse. Now I'm writing about the creation of new life without intercourse."

While his play definitely goes ahead, top acts like comedians Jo Brand and Alan Davies and a first ever staging by the Royal Shakespeare Company of Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett were threatened when Edinburgh City Council halved the grant to the Georgian Assembly Rooms, one of the main fringe venues, and simultaneously increased the rent to the charitable company which turns the rooms into six temporary theatres for the three- week festival run.

But Steve Cardownie, convenor of the council's recreation committee, and William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of the Assembly Rooms met and thrashed out an eleventh-hour compromise safeguarding the programme, at least for this year.

The rent has dropped to around pounds 65,000 and the council will take a share in any surplus receipts.

Mr Burdett-Coutts was content with the immediate outcome but said councillors did not take the fringe sufficiently seriously.

"Long-term there needs to be a sea-change in attitude if the fringe is to survive," he said.

The first dramatic feats from the festival yesterday were less cerebral than Prof. Djerassi's work.

Eighteen performers from the Circus of Horrors, a children's television presenter and a press-ganged firefighter yesterday broke a world record by dangling 90 metres above an Edinburgh park.

They were hoisted into the sky to break the record for hanging the most people on a human mobile at the tallest height.

American actress Katherine Faulconer, meanwhile, was breaking records just by being there. At 82, the performer with a San Diego company is the oldest actor on the fringe.

Elsewhere fringe artist John Kamikaze is to be suspended horizontally by meat hooks pierced through his back and legs while Trash, a female sword swallower, eats maggots and worms and invites the audience to smell her breath.