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Show offers a playful take on poll as Fringe gets under way

IT COULD be the first Fringe to issue two million tickets, and is certainly the first, and perhaps the last, to come weeks before a poll on Scottish independence.

Today the Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins its 67th year with its largest programme to date, featuring 3,193 shows.

About 100 of these take on themes of independence, Scottish identity and the referendum poll in what its chief executive says could be the most "exciting festival in its history", a festival which ends four weeks before the vote being held on September 18.

David Greig, the leading playwright, is one of the team of Yes-inclined writers and artists including Kieron Hurley and Peter Arnott behind the lunchtime show All Back to Bowie's, which is playing at The Stand in the Square.

However, Mr Greig said the show, which he hopes is an open and inclusive "salon", is not designed to persuade voters to vote either way.

He said: "We are trying to be playful about it, and to get away from hustings, and to get away from one person saying one thing, and is wholly and 100% in favour of independence and another person refutes it by saying another thing.

"Partly I am bored by that, and partly I don't think it persuades anyone anyway, and partly I don't want to persuade anybody.

"And generally, I find this an extraordinary, fertile time and people in all kinds of ways are making thoughts and inter-ventions that are interesting. I just want to hear them, to hear them talk, involve the audience a little bit, hear some music, hear some poetry, and hear some other ideas and not get into point-scoring or persuasion."

Rachael Clerke, originally from Leith, is staging a show at Underbelly called How to Achieve Redemption as a Scot Through the Medium of Braveheart, in which she will play the roles of Donald Trump, First Minister Alex Salmond and Mel Gibson's take on William Wallace from the movie Braveheart.

She said it was partially inspired by her view that there are no dominant female figures in the independence debate.

She said: "I left Scotland in 2008 to study, because I knew a lot of people who never left Scotland and who never wanted to leave.

"And one of the things I felt I was rejecting was that this was a more macho culture than down south, and I struggled with that angry male thing, and that all the history I had been taught about Scotland had been about men.

"The independence debate is dominated by men. So many people have suggested I 'do' Nicola Sturgeon but to me, she is totally involved and hugely important, but also she is also not the leader.

"There are no women that are really leading the debate and there is no female that has really been a prominent figure in forming a Scottish identity.

"People suggested JK Rowling - but she is just a prominent person living in Scotland, she doesn't have a massive impact on the way we see ourselves."

Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which organises the festival, said: "We have been getting ready for Fringe 2014 for the past year and it feels fantastic to launch what will be an unforgettable month of arts and culture.

"The volume of performers, companies and venues who are gathering in Edinburgh to be part of this year's festival is over-whelming and further solidifies the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's position as the best place for artists to showcase their work.

In 299 venues, there will be 50,771 performances overall. Last year the festival issued 1.94m tickets. It runs until August 25.

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