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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Simpsons sell out in Edinburgh
The Simpsons
The stage show has taken festival organisers by surprise
By arts correspondent David Sillito

Cartoon series The Simpsons has become the hottest show at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

A one-off live script reading by the cast sold out within 50 minutes.

The faces behind the voices appeared on stage on Monday for only the second time in the show's 10-year history.

Large cut-out pictures helped the audience at the Assembly Rooms identify which character was speaking, but then it was up to the vocal talents of the artists to carry the entertainment.

The stage show was first tried out at a comedy festival in Aspen in Colorado and was brought to Edinburgh after the creator of the show, Matt Groening, visited the city last year to promote his new show, Futurama.

Surprise hit

However, the popularity of The Simpsons on stage has taken the organisers by surprise.

The festival is more normally associated with productions of serious theatre and stand-up comedy - a script reading was thought to be of interest only to the most ardent Simpsons fans.

But while many shows have been struggling to pull in the crowds, the only tickets left for Monday's show were on the black market.

Matt Groening
Matt Groening: The show's creator
There were some surprises for those who have never seen the voice artists.

Beer and burger guzzling Homer Simpson is played by the quiet and svelte Dan Castellaneta.

The voice of under-achieving juvenile boy Bart Simpson comes out of the mouth of an award-winning and very grown-up woman, Nancy Cartwright.

While the evil capitalist double act of Mr Burns and Smithers is all the work of one man, Harry Shearer.

The success of such a product on international television has alarmed some purists who fear that such star attractions overshadow the thousands of performers struggling to use Edinburgh to get some attention.

Cultural power

But when it comes to literary merit the critics seem to be unusually united. One commentator from the Guardian even said it was one of the "pinnacles of 20th century culture".

Its cultural power is probably best demonstrated by the willingness of big names to appear in cameo roles.

Surviving Beatles Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison have all been featured.

But it was not the real voice of George Bush senior during his appearance. The former US president caused a furore when he said he wanted family life to be more like The Waltons than The Simpsons.

The stage show then is a celebration of a huge international hit. The Simpsons now appear in more than 90 countries.

When Sky decided to run The Simpsons ten years ago it had a programme that was to provoke thousands of children to force their parents to get a satellite dish.

It was 'pester power' from children who, rather than being appalled at the dysfunctional family, would happily swap their lives for one in Springfield.

How long can it last?

Sky thought they had a good cartoon series, 10 years later they have a cultural phenomenon.

The question now is how long can it last? Bart, Lisa and Maggie have been frozen into a permanent childhood but all the cast and writers are getting older and shorter of ideas.

After 12 series, the prospect of another 12 brings some of the writers out in a cold sweat.

Its creator, Matt Groening, now only takes a supervisory role and devotes his attention to his new series Futurama.

Like Bart, this 10th birthday party may be as far as it goes, few believe there will be any repeat of the stage show to celebrate a twentieth anniversary.

There are two further performances at London's Playhouse Theatre on 17 and 18 August - both are sold out.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Sillito
"This is really all about voices"
See also:

22 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Homer and Bart head for Britain
14 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Death hits The Simpsons
13 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Wahooo! Simpsons celebrate 10 years
06 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Prof Hawking moves in with The Simpsons
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