Physical Theatre review: Surge Festival 2018, various venues, Glasgow

Big Rory and Ochie the Dog
Big Rory and Ochie the Dog
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You don’t expect a chatty demonic baby, two apocalyptic brass bands or duelling swaggering Liam Gallaghers to invade the Merchant City, but the final weekend of the European Championships celebrations in Glasgow ushered in a carnival of surprising open air theatre, none of it thankfully offering juggling, unicycling or doing something with fire.

Amongst the craft, cocktail and currywurst stalls studding the streets, Beautiful Bones (****) proved an ebullient crowd-pleaser, pitting four skeletal horseman of the apocalypse in chariots against a tribal trombone orchestra. The result was a jaunty interrogation of graveyard humour combining Mardi Gras with Mad Max, and mashing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond. Mixing professional UK ensemble Pandora’s Box, Scottish music graduates and talented locals was a nice democratic touch too. No bones to pick here.

Ramshacklicious’ Band At The End of the World (***) were also preoccupied with brass bands and the end of days, pottering around Candleriggs with an act that seems patterned after a steampunk silent movie and was as ramshackle as billed. Even with music and amplifiers, street bands had to work harder to capture audiences than conventional performers but Catalan outfit LaDinamo (****) drew crowds to move to their groove by getting on their bikes and peddling their flip, fly feelgood funk on cycles and trikes.

Comedy sideshows had a trickier time; the two female performers comprising tribute act Oassissy (**) had the dufflecoats, the monobrow and the backing tracks to fuel feuding Liam Gallaghers but need to work on material that can generate laughs and sustain interest. I wasn’t mad for it. There were also too many walkabout shows relying on making a spectacle of themselves by standing on stilts and wearing fancy dress. Pigsticks’ Mother’s Ruin (***) is a commanding creation – a giant silent mother dressed in Handmaid Red, carrying a garrulous pointy-eared and pointy-toothed baby demon - but the infant interactions with the crowd needed to be wittier and more engaging. Like Big Rory and Ochie the Dog (***), a giant kilt-wearing Scotsman who strode around the streets with his oversized hound delighting kids and terrifying real dogs - the banter was game but gamey. Coincidentally, both acts made full use of a ruder update on the joke buttonhole flower that squirts water when the unwary approach.

The best street shows have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, with performers who can engage directly with audiences of all ages. Music and dance duo Bug n Buzz (****) made creative use of their pitch by an outside café bar, with Buzz transforming a fork into a violin and a cocktail swizzel into a double bass, while Bug navigated challenging movement spaces, such as the narrow gaps between diners’ tables. Their finale pulled in random passersby for a delightful and rather touching ensemble routine, that neatly inferred that maybe we can all be streetwise.