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Israel row director hits back as show is cancelled

THE director of an Israeli show which has had its performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe cancelled after protests said he was shocked by events, and did not expect to experience them at the world's biggest art festival.

The Fringe starts its first weekend of the 2014 season today, but early days have been dominated by the cancellation of the show The City, by Incubator Theatre, after protests at its venue after the first show on Wednesday.

It was due to be staged by the theatre group, who receive funding from the Israeli government, at the Cow Barn in Underbelly in Bristo Square but the protests, which disrupted other venues, led to its cancellation.

Last night the director of the company, Arik Eshet, said the group had been performing songs on the streets of Edinburgh while still trying to find a new home.

It could be several days before the show, a hip-hop opera entitled The City, finds a new venue, he said, although the company is in talks with various possible venues.

"I am trying to be optimistic," he said, "It has been traumatic and I was not expecting what happened.I am optimistic we will find a new home but there is nothing quite yet, we are working hard on it and right now we are performing on the street because we are here and we want to be doing something."

Mr Eshet said he was surprised Underbelly had cancelled the show so quickly, but also understood given the disruption the protests made to other venues in the area. He said: "I didn't expect them to give up so quickly.

"I believe in a freedom to demonstrate but that has to be balanced by freedom of speech.

"If you shout so loudly that you close shows at the Fringe, the biggest festival in the world, then that is not freedom of speech."

More than 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including many children, have died in the latest conflict in Gaza, as well as 63 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Scots Makar Liz Lochhead was among the signatories of an open letter protesting against the staging of The City last month.

The letter, also signed by figures such as playwright David Greig, author and artist Alasdair Gray, and theatre directors Ben Harrison, Graham McLaren and Cora Bissett, called for the Underbelly venue to reconsider staging the group's opera.

The letter said: "The current, brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza, which is an appalling collective punishment, underlines the seriousness of your error in co-operating with a company which is funded by the Ministry of Culture of the state of Israel."

Mr Eshet said he would not reconsider taking money from the Israel government.

"No, not at all," he said, "Every company coming from another country is probably taking some government funding, and the Israel government does not give funding for your political views, we are funded for our art. I am a proud Israeli. This conflict is very, very complicated and there are two sides to it. The conflict is terrible: but I am here for the art."

Last night Underbelly confirmed the show was still cancelled.

A statement said: "Performances of The City remain cancelled due to the fact that the protests against the show made the operation of the venues and the other shows in and around The Reid Hall are impossible."

Meanwhile, welcoming the opening of the Fringe for another year, Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, said: "The Edinburgh Festival Fringe remains an outstanding event .

"For sheer scale and excitement, does any other festival open up so many opportunities to present work of so many different genres and art forms?"

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins its 67th year with its largest programme to date.It runs until August 25.

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