Edinburgh show about JK Rowling's controversial transgender stance set for Fringe run - Writer speaks out

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Controversial show set for Edinburgh premiere run in August

A new play that explores the controversy surrounding JK Rowling and transgender rights is set to premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.

TERF, by US playwright and screenwriter Joshua Kaplan, considers the recent and ongoing events through the lens of a fictional intervention organised by Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.

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Through their conversations and imagined flashbacks to the author’s earlier life, TERF investigates the causes, and potential consequences, of Rowling’s exceedingly public, highly charged relationship with the transgender community – and many of her half-billion readers.

The play, presented by Edinburgh-based production house Civil Disobedience, will premiere at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre, St Stephen’s on August 2 and runs for the duration of the festival.

Over the past several years, Rowling’s tweets around transgender rights – including single-sex spaces, gender-affirming care, and trans identity – have served to inflame the public discussion over trans rights.

TERF focuses on the relationships between Rowling and Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson, as well as the relationships between the actors themselves, to contextualise Rowling’s evolution from an exceedingly private author to a polarising public figure.

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TERF will premiere at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre, St Stephen’s on August 2 and runs for the duration of the festival. Inset: Piers Mackenzie who is playing Daniel Radcliffe  in the play.TERF will premiere at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre, St Stephen’s on August 2 and runs for the duration of the festival. Inset: Piers Mackenzie who is playing Daniel Radcliffe  in the play.
TERF will premiere at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre, St Stephen’s on August 2 and runs for the duration of the festival. Inset: Piers Mackenzie who is playing Daniel Radcliffe in the play. | Submitted

TERF seeks to understand, not only the author herself, but also the generational, political, and socio-cultural divisions that have moved the debate over the rights of a historically marginalised community into the mainstream.

As a gay grandchild of Holocaust survivors, writer Joshua Kaplan has high expectations for the project.

He said: “I grew up with a very keen appreciation for the delicacy of life, and how that delicacy can be too easily upended by fear and rage, even – or perhaps especially – when those emotions feel justified by experience.”

According to Kaplan, what marks the current troubling shift in the discourse is not the expression of ideas we find offensive or abhorrent. Instead, Kaplan was motivated to write TERF by the cycles of victimisation, demonisation, and retribution that “characterise and expand far beyond the Rowling controversy”.

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He added: “Understanding does not necessarily lead to forgiveness or even acceptance, but it almost always leads to some degree of compassion, or at least, non-harm”.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the team behind the controversial show. A call-out for collaborators earlier this year was met with public outrage, and threats of protest in Scotland and the US.

Even finding a venue that would host the play was a significant challenge, as the show organisers said that many Fringe programmers, though excited by the project, ultimately passed due to concern for staff safety.

Pre-production has encountered similar challenges, with major arts groups resistant to associate with the project for fear of reprisal, despite the fact that nobody outside the team has ever seen or read the play itself.

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Kaplan and TERF producer Barry Church-Woods are more motivated than ever to present this important and timely work.

Church-Woods said: “I’ve been running Civil Disobedience for almost a decade now, and every year we create and nurture work that supports public discourse around hot topic themes.

“We’re used to ruffling a few feathers, after all, art is supposed to be provocative, however with TERF I have encountered a level of pushback that’s unprecedented for a work not yet publicly shared.

“That only cements my belief that now is the time to be having this conversation and I look forward to premiering the show at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre this August and encourage meaningful conversations around the issues raised in the work.”

TERF is on at the Sir Ian McKellen Theatre at St Stephen’s, August 2-25 at 3.45pm each day.

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