Fringe faces the wrath of L Ron

Scotland on Sunday/June 17, 2007
By Marc Horne

Stand by for the Fringe's first sect scandal. The world's biggest arts jamboree is facing a boycott over a scathing parody of the Church of Scientology.

A musical about the controversial religious sect will premiere in Edinburgh during the event in August. Drama group Collapsible Theatre is staging Xenu Is Loose! - a satirical science-fiction production poking fun at the doctrines of the organisation, which has a host of celebrity adherents, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

But the spoof drama has provoked an angry response from Scientologists, which has urged people to stay away, and is considering what action to take against the play.

Scientology is one of the fastest growing sects in the world, claiming more than eight million members.

It was founded in the US in 1952 by science fiction writer, pilot, musician and photographer L Ron Hubbard.

Labelled a cult by its critics, defended as a bona fide religion by devotees, it is never far from the headlines.

Members of the Oxford-based drama group used material gathered during a year spent investigating the movement to create a play sending up its methods and mythology.

"The more we looked into it, the more we saw potential for an exposé show," said director Stewart Pringle. "Instead of putting together a straight satire we decided to create a kitsch rock'n'roll musical based on the science-fiction mythology on which Scientology is based.

"We hope to open people's eyes about Scientology and the sophisticated and complex psychological techniques it uses to recruit people and keep them within the organisation. In our opinion it is a cult."

Scientologists routinely advertise free personality, IQ and aptitude tests at their bases and at stalls and events across the UK. Those whose tests produce "negative" results are invited to read books by Hubbard and attend courses expounding his philosophy of Dianetics.

"Past experience shows that Scientologists don't take kindly to criticism at all," said Pringle.

"If they plan to picket us then so be it."

The play, which will be staged at Venue C in the capital's Chambers Street, chronicles the adventures of an all-American high school student who battles intergalactic overlords after embracing Scientology.

It is a pastiche of Hubbard's sci-fi epic Battlefield Earth, which received a critical mauling after it was filmed in 2000, starring John Travolta.

Church of Scientology spokeswoman Janet Kenyon Laveau claimed the play's authors were misinformed about Scientology and advised people not to attend the play during its Edinburgh run. She said people interested in learning about Scientology should instead read Hubbard's work online or in a library.

"We would advise people to find out for yourself from the horse's mouth, not from some kooks," she said.

The organisation's UK spokeswoman felt the dramatists had deliberately tried to mix the doctrines of Scientology with fictional work written by its creator.

"L Ron Hubbard was also a science fiction writer.

It is a cheap parlour trick to try to liken the philosophy of Scientology to that work. There is nothing in the theology or philosophy of Scientology about belief in aliens," she said.

Kenyon Laveau said it was too early to reveal what action the church would be taking in response to the play.

In the past, Scientologists have picketed critics as well as taking legal action against detractors.

Last month, millions watched as BBC reporter John Sweeney - by his own admission - "lost the plot" and bellowed "like an exploding tomato" in one confrontation with senior Scientologist Tommy Davis.

Sweeney's attempt to investigate the organisation had been shadowed by Scientologists filming their own counter documentary.

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