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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Pick of Edinburgh Fringe 2003
Steven Berkoff
Steven Berkoff will be performing in three plays
BBC News Online picks out the pick of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2003 which boasts 1,541 shows over three weeks.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is renowned for offering a diverse array of performances from madcap comedy to serious drama.

But it can prove a tough task to navigate the city in search of the best shows.

It would take four years and 143 days to see every performance back-to-back.

Few people have the time or the money to see as much as they would like and picking what to see can often be a lottery.

One show that has had no problem standing out - and selling tickets - is Osama Likes it Hot at the Smirnoff Underbelly.

Self-styled "comedy terrorist" Aaron Barschak got a head start on promoting his show when he gatecrashed Prince William's 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle dressed as Osama Bin Laden in a peach-coloured dress.

But his ability to steal the show has yet to be tested on such a big stage as the Fringe, and his publicity stunt will ensure the critics' knives are out.

But there are many tried and tested comedy performers appearing at this year's festival, including Jimmy Carr, Dave Gorman, Lee Hurst and Julian Clary.

Venturing into unknown territory, however, will be the Parisian comedy troupe who are putting on an hour-long Monty Python set entirely in French.

The show has been a smash hit in the troupe's homeland but will be putting British audiences to the test for the first time in Edinburgh.

Monty Python
Monty Python in French? C'est vrai!
Drama is also particularly strong at this year's Fringe and productions include some well-known faces taking on unusual roles.

Best known for comedy, Jo Brand is changing direction to star in Mental, a play about two women patients in a mental hospital.

Acclaimed actor and writer Steven Berkoff returns to Edinburgh to perform a trilogy of plays at the Royal Lyceum Theatre.

He will reprise his 9/11 monologue Requiem for Ground Zero which he performed to sell-out crowds last year.

Berkoff will then move on to Shakespeare's Villains and One Man, which sees him contrast the lives of a football hooligan and his dog - with Berkoff playing both parts.

Some of the comedy circuit's finest performers have been brought together for a production of Reginald Rose's Pulitzer-winning courtroom drama 12 Angry Men at the Assembly Rooms.

Among the cast are Bill Bailey, Stephen Frost, Jeff Green, Kevin Eldon and Ed Byrne.

Actor Richard Wilson - better known as the former star of BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave - has moved back stage to direct Playing the Victim.

The black comedy is performed by London's Royal Court Theatre and will have its world première at the Fringe.

Also set to be unveiled for the first time is The Straits, the eagerly anticipated second production from the award-winning playwright Gregory Burke.

Burke was catapulted to fame at the Fringe two years ago with his hit debut piece Gargarin Way, which later transferred to London's National Theatre where it had continued success.

Materiali perform in a waterfall
Dance and physical theatre are traditionally performed to a high standard at the Fringe and this year sees a return of the award-winning Russian company Derevo.

The troupe from St Petersburg are promising a show with more hi-tech wizardry and death-defying acrobatics.

Also putting on a stunning performance will be Italian company Materiali Resistenti.

Their show Waterwall sees performers dance amid 16,000 litres of tumbling water in a four-metre-high purpose built waterfall.

Unusual venues have become a staple of the Fringe and 2003 sees shows performed up a ladder, in lift, a Ford Escort and a public loo.

But there are also a number of new and more traditional venues opening this year.

They include the 400-seater Pod on Edinburgh's Festival Square.

But also likely to be particularly welcome among Fringe devotees will be the reopening of the long-standing Gilded Balloon, after a huge salvage operation, in a new venue.

The original venue - a firm favourite among visitors - was devastated by fire earlier this year.

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