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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Festival defends 'Bulger' play
Edinburgh festival
The festival opened on Sunday with a parade
The director of the Edinburgh Fringe has said "controversy is always a part of the festival" in response to condemnation of a play inspired by the James Bulger killing.

The Age of Consent features a 19-year old called Timmy who was convicted for the murder of a toddler and is being held in a secure unit.

It would not be the fringe festival if some difficult issues were not being tackled

Paul Gudgin, festival director
James Bulger's mother, Denise Fergus, was angered at the obvious parallels with the lives of her child's murderers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

But festival director Paul Gudgin said that one of the strong points of the festival was is that it did not interfere with the performances.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival director Paul Gudgin
Gudgin says the Festival does not interfere with material
"Controversy is always a part of the festival and it would not be the fringe festival if some difficult issues were not being tackled," he told BBC News Online.

"There is no censorship at the festival but we do advise theatre companies and venues about what is against the law."

Venables and Thompson were 10 when they were convicted of abducting two-year-old James Bulger from a shopping centre in February 1993.

In Age of Consent, Timmy - who has just been released from custody - describes how he lured a child from his mother and beat him to death.

In one scene he faces the audience and says that he should not be judged for his terrible crime as he has been rehabilitated.

Ms Fergus told The Scotsman newspaper that the play was "just designed to try and shock people and grab publicity."

Denise Fergus
Denise Fergus says she has no intention of seeing the show

Gudgin agrees that the play's effect was always likely to be hard-hitting, but that was part of the intent.

"Theatre can be like documentary and sometimes it can be more powerful than documentary because it has a much more direct effect on the audience," he said.

Age of Consent is the work of award-winning playwright Peter Morris, who tackled the Columbine high school massacre in his last play The Second Amendment.

Morris, who is currently working in the US, said that his play was intended to counter the "irrationality" that surrounds coverage of the James Bulger killers.

The controversy comes soon after the one surrounding the Channel 4 show Brass Eye, which aimed to counter the "hysteria" around the portrayal of paedophiles.

That programme, along with its creator and presenter Chris Morris, was widely criticised as being insensitive.

Gudgin pointed out that the Edinburgh Festival has a long history of controversial productions.

"The fringe festival was among the first to introduce nudity to theatre," he says.

"The fringe is about addressing serious issues and difficult issues."

This year another play called Ouch! looks at the bombing of the Admiral Nelson pub in London's Soho in April 1999.

Edward Dick, the play's director
"It's not a black comedy"
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