Shakespeare, 18 years on death row in a Pakistani jail, and a famously alcoholic writer are just a few of the serious dramas that balance the zany comedy shows at this year's 63rd Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

While crowds queue up to guffaw at the antics of rising comedy stars like Laura Solon and Idiots of Ants and headline acts such as Ricky Gervais, other playhouses at the world's largest open access arts festival offer powerful drama.

Fringe Chief Executive Kath Mainland said visitors to the annual Fringe, renowned for comedy and the carnival atmosphere provided by hundreds of street performers, should also see some of the theatre, dance, art and other performances that are part of the more than 2,000 shows in the official programme.

There is slightly more comedy than there is theatre, (but) there is a lot of theatre too, she said. It's a great kind of snapshot of contemporary culture.

Frequent festivalgoers Tim Chambers and girlfriend Hannah Ritchie from Leeds in northern England agree that the Fringe is the place to see comedy, but also relish the chance to view some of the newest theatrical works on offer.

There are a couple of Othellos, but I'd rather go and see some new writing, 23-year-old Ritchie told Reuters on Monday.

A British Subject, written by actress Nichola McAuliffe about a campaign to free British-born Mirza Tahir Hussain from death row in Pakistan's Rawalpindi Central Jail, is one new work at the Fringe trying to create a buzz.

The play, in which McAuliffe plays herself alongside three other actors, tells how she and her journalist husband took up Hussain's cause against the indifference of the British government, Pakistan's political establishment and the desire of a family to have Hussain hanged for the death of their relative.

I really, really wanted to tell the story and the Pleasance (theatre company) scraped together the money, McAuliffe told Reuters.

In a world where Pakistan, Islam and tribal politics make frontpage news every day, the Pleasance allowed McAuliffe to show her husband, Don Mackay of Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper, visiting Hussain in prison, a harrowing experience portrayed in compelling detail.

His visit leads Mackay and McAuliffe into an apparently hopeless campaign to free Hussain that climaxes with the intervention of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

And it's all true, McAuliffe said.

The literary talents of American writer and alcoholic Charles Bukowski have been adapted for the play Barflies, put on by the Grid Iron theatre company, in which a character resembling Bukowski extols the liberating -- as well as confining -- effects of alcohol abuse.

The performance is held each afternoon in a bar and audience members are offered their choice of drink as they walk in, including the specially concocted G.I. Bukowski.

Such gimmicks might be offputting were it not for the raging performance, which earned the play four stars from What's On Stage theatre critic Michael Coveney.

You get a drink with your ticket, but you don't much feel like finishing it as Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, drinks himself through and beyond oblivion and a series of wild women... (Editing by Tim Pearce)