Journalists will never save the world. As at least two productions on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe make abundantly clear, however, word power can go some way to raising consciousness, even if it is largely short term. Putting such assignments on stage, though, is a different matter. Nichola McAuliffe's A Very British Subject (***) dramatises her real-life husband and tabloid reporter Don Mackay's quest to get a young Leeds man released from the Pakistani prison where he was incarcerated for 18 years.

The young Tiresias Productions similarly draw from real-life experience as they dramatise an extended interview with a young Ugandan woman who was brutalised at the hands of her elders, who forced her to become a child soldier.

McAuliffe plays herself in Hannah Eldinow's production of a play that is heartfelt, but which puts Mackay at the play's centre. Apart from a couple of speeches, the effect of this is that the imprisoned man becomes a bit-part player in his own story.

No-one's suggesting that Mackay didn't play a crucial part in the man's release after being sentenced to death on the same New Year's Eve that saw Saddam Hussein executed. One would have preferred it, however, if his previous life in Leeds had provided a background as much as that of McAuliffe and Mackay.

More inspiration is taken from the murkier side of real life in Crime of the Century (***) , youth theatre stalwarts Chickenshed's look at the tragic effects of knife crime in youth gang culture.

It's a prescient issue, and one close to home for director/writers David Carey and Christine Niering and the ten young people onstage, one of whom is the cousin of a 14-year-old boy stabbed to death in Hackney a year ago this August.

Taking this and other incidents as their sadly true life starting point, Chickenshed have pumped this into a loose-knit pop video style collage of ensemble shape throwing that charts an all too familiar litany of troubled home lives, drug abuse and having to grow up too soon to deal with the seeming lawlessness of the inner-city jungle.

Set to a pumping soundtrack of rap, hip hop and jungle, it's all pretty high-octane stuff. You never get any sense in all this, however, of the performers' real voices beyond the well-drilled choreography. Which is a shame, because there is clearly real anger and hurt at the heart of this show, which would benefit if it were allowed to cut loose with it more.

Meanwhile, back at the Forest Fringe, the weekend was cram-full of umpteen micro-performances in every nook and cranny of the Bristo Hall. H Plewis And Her Anti-Burlesque T-Shirt Dance! (****) is a five-minute aside from the eponymous Ms Plewis, a veteran of the Duckie new cabaret set. Plewis stands in a corner of the hall, gazing out in silence at her audience.

Her T-shirt at first appears to be emblazoned with slogans of the 1980s Katherine Hamnet Choose Life! variety, until it dawns on you that, front and back, the words are her dialogue with us.

Layer after layer is unveiled via what looks like an entire wardrobe of customised apparel until Plewis can stay still no longer as she's seduced by the world music that's just started playing.

Before GuruGuru (****) , the second show from Rotozaza following their supermarket-based sound walk, Wondermart, starts, one initially wonders whether the experience will match Ontoroend Goed's astonishing experiential piece, Internal.

Here, an audience of five are asked to play a crucial and active role in proceedings. Once the door closes behind you after you've been issued with nametags for an assortment of characters, however, you realise that, unlike Internal, you're all in this together.

Seated in front of a TV screen and asked to wear headphones, you're fed lines by voices to create, first of all, a talking image onscreen, then an entire self-help scenario where imagination might just be unleashed through the manipulation of what are effectively directors in your head.

It's a fascinating hour that may initially confuse, but which eventually empowers you to all manner of possibilities for play-acting in the Forest Fringe's ongoing arts lab experience. A British Subject, Pleasance until August 30, 2.20pm. The Nine Lives of Bua Lydia, Underbelly until August 30, 1.25pm. Crime of the Century, Zoo Southside until August 30, 2.45pm GuruGuru, Forest Fringe until August 29, every hour.

Seven weeks is not a lot of time to write, cast and rehearse an audacious comedy that not only imagines Michael Jackson's experience of the afterlife but also incorporates a sharp critique of modern TV culture and a dance-based demolition of basic tenets of Christianity. Somehow the creators of Michael Jackson At The Gates of Heaven and Hell (****) have achieved just that.

Frustratingly, it was weak technical support that let the show down during week one, but audiences took advantage of awkward scene changes to shower the cast with enthusiastic applause. Five actors play everyone from Jesus and John Lennon to Bubbles and Mariah as we follow the King of Pop's time in purgatory ahead of his day of judgment, which includes a bust-up with the King of the Jews and a guest spot on Princess Diana's talk show, Died Today. While it might sound like little more than an excuse to offend and outrage, there's actually a pretty clear focus to all of the silliness. Sure, the dancing penis scene is not strictly crucial to the plot, but Michael Edwards's portrayal of the King of Pop is actually rather touching, and when his ambiguously sinister alter-ego (the man in the mirror) is unleashed the show soars to a new level of bizarre brilliance.

The Assassination of Paris Hilton (***) is a rather less ambitious comedy that is as much about the insecurities and love-hate friendships of five young women as it is about their feelings towards the vacuous heiress.

The half-hour show is staged in the ladies' toilets at the Assembly Rooms, bringing the audience so close to the action that they can almost smell the vodka, vomit, and desperation.

Megan Ford's script certainly has an authentic ring to it - depressingly, this feels more like documentary than satire - but its structure is somewhat unsatisfying, with the most interesting trio of characters breezing in and out without much dramatic purpose. While it provides little by way of fresh insight into celebrity hero-worship, this is a very entertaining 30 minutes, and the convincing performances (particularly that of Alison O'Donnell as the eager-to-please Maggie and Janey Lawson as busty bitch Lauren) are a delight.

The words "eccentric female librarian" in any show description should sound a warning bell. However, when the show in question - A Stroke of Genius (***) - also takes inspiration from as fascinating a true story as that of the so-called Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, it has to be worth a look.

Unfortunately, this cleverly-staged and darkly comic mystery from award-winning company PIT gives over a lot more time to Leah Milner's tiresomely batty Dora than to exploring the biological bonds and eugenic ambitions with which the creative team claim to be fascinated.

"A baby - that would give me a new purpose," announces the sociopathic spinster after learning that her beloved library is to close. With the help of the sinister Mr Product, she sets about tricking a young scientist into helping her obtain the sperm of a distinguished giant among men (the really very tall Simon Perkins). Illegal probes into the library's archives lead the duo into increasingly desperate measures, cleverly hinted at via a surreal storytelling style.

The scientist in question is not Robert Graham, who created the infamous Repository for Germinal Choice in 1980, but the notorious eugenicist does make an appearance in puppet form, accompanied by jaunty accordion music.

Those seeking no more than a daft diversion will find one here, but anyone expecting commentary on the increasingly ethically dubious world of fertility assistance will be left disappointed. The Assassination of Paris Hilton is at various times at Assembly @ George Street and Michael Jackson at the Gates of Heaven and Hell is at 11pm at Underbelly, both until August 30. A Stroke of Genius is at 2.40pm at the Pleasance Dome until August 30.