The leading Fringe venue that was at the centre of the biggest controversy of last year's festival is to stage a series of plays and talks on the theme of free speech.

Underbelly, who is also launching its new Circus hub at this year's arts festival, is staging a series of new work by leading writers including Mark Ravenhill and Neil LaBute which tackle "the tension between art and politics."

Last year, in the biggest controversy of the festival, Underbelly cancelled performances by Incubator Theatre of Israel, who were at the centre of protests as they received money from the Israeli government, which was at the time engaged in military action in Gaza.

Underbelly are staging Walking The Tightrope, a series of world premieres of "explosive" political plays followed by post show discussions including panellists such as Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival and Sir Jonathan Mills, its former director.

The plays are being directed by Cressida Brown.

Ed Bartlam, who founded Underbelly in 2000 with Charlie Woods, said that last year's events were "very difficult - what we had to do in the end, which was cancel the performances, was completely against what we wanted to do."

He added: "Walking The Tightrope is all about freedom of expression and the idea is that the show will be an hour and after it is a 20 minute panel discussion.

"That in our small way is our way of trying to respond to what happened last year: have a discussion and confront it.

"It is very much our view is that one should be allowed to express views in art and culture."

He said Underbelly had not been put off staging productions from Israel or those funded by the Israel government.

Bartlam said that "for us, it is about creating a programme which is thought provoking, stimulating and has good shows.

"And I would like to think that if there was a great show from Israel that had a story and a message and was ultimately a good show - nothing has approached us from Israel this year - I like to think we would consider that show.

"This is no doubt that what is happening, and what particularly what was happening in that part of the world last year was awful, was appalling.

"And in that respect we had a lot of sympathy with the reasons for what the protestors were protesting - what we didn't have any sympathy for how they protested and trying to close down a show, and trying to cause maximum disruption to the show and the whole area."

Ms Brown, director of Walking The Tightrope, said: "The fact that freedom of expression seems so complicated to negotiate at the moment is exactly why I think we should raise it."

Meanwhile, the Underbelly's 750-seat Lafayette circus tent will now not open until Monday.

It was due to open this Friday, with the rest of the Fringe, but the Underbelly's smaller circus tent, Beauty, will open as planned.