Theatre review: Surge Festival, Glasgow

High on the wall between two colonnades on Virginia Place, an anonymous figure in a bright red hoodie is wedged in gravity-defying position. Around the corner, three rubbish bins stand in line next to two towers of crouched bodies piled three-high, primary-coloured arses to the world. In front of a window above Babbity Bowster, there's a human sculpture made up of six pairs of legs in purple, red and sky blue.

Bodies in Urban Spaces by Cie. Willi Dorner
Bodies in Urban Spaces by Cie. Willi Dorner

Surge Festival ****

Various venues, Glasgow

It is the same all over the Merchant City and beyond, from the back alleys near GoMA to the steps of St Andrew’s in the Square. Squashed into crevices, balanced in trees, wedged into doorways, bodies are held rigid in poses as elegant as they are athletic. The highlight of the Surge street-theatre festival (part of the Merchant City Festival), this is Bodies in Urban Spaces, an 85-minute walking tour in which every new street brings forth another colourful combination of people in impossible configurations.

Created by Austrian artist Cie Willi Dorner, it is both arresting and beautiful, delighting not only those on the tour but also passers-by who have no clue what’s going on. The freeze-frame choreography created in response to the architecture makes you look at the built environment with fresh eyes, the bodies, being both ordered and organic, reflecting and defying the solid structures around them.

As you wander through the streets and the lithe performers barge past en route to their next tableau, you catch sight of the

other Surge events popping up between the Merchant City Festival’s craft stalls and food tents. The line between fact and


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fiction gets blurred.

There are, for example, the three lowly storytellers of Them Peasants, prostrating themselves in front of shoppers before flashing their toothless smiles in humble gratitude. In sackcloth outfits under dirt-streaked faces,

they claim a street corner to tell the Tragedy of the Swede. Safe to say this vegetable-related yarn isn’t terribly tragic but they put their heart into it, as does a passing child whom they co-opt into the performance, improvising with easy-going confidence.

Then there’s The Spurting Man, an entertaining piece of street-theatre surrealism by Avanti Display in which a lugubrious lackey gives the red-carpet treatment to a self-regarding matinee idol who has water where the rest of us have blood. Slash his wrist or stab his heart and out streams a fountain, directed – naturally – at the audience. The spectacular finale is a glorious watery display with plumes heading out in every direction, not only from his every orifice but from the chair, the hat stand and – shock! – all the prams in the audience.

Away from the crowds in Greyfriars Garden, the afternoon’s only dud is Flowerpot Women, a self-indulgent piece of dressing-up-box theatre performed by Izzie Major and Dora Colquhoun. It’s about two bickering gardeners, with no fixed accent or character, who gurn their way through a sequence of squabbles which may or may not be a cover for their dark history of sexual abuse. Whether comic or tragic, it lacks the ring of truth.