On the evening of 9 August, something strange is set to happen on the streets of Glasgow. It won’t be the only cultural event to shake the city in early August; the arts festival that accompanies the first-ever all-embracing European Championships – co-hosted by Glasgow and Berlin – includes a range of groundbreaking cultural events, from a sound installation in the Clyde Tunnel to evenings in George Square hosted by artists including the renowned visual artist Douglas Gordon working with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and Barry Burns of Mogwai.
Of all the events on the Festival 2018 programme, though, none is likely to be stranger, more leftfield, or more intimate in its connection with the city and its people, than the unique combination of street theatre and instant cinema known as Super Night Shot, staged by international Berlin-based theatre-makers Gob Squad, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland.
First seen 15 years ago – and inspired, according to Gob Squad’s Sean Patten, by an image of Irvine Welsh walking through Edinburgh with three friends, reflecting on the place and their lives – Super Night Shot is the most successful and widely-toured piece Gob Squad has created in its 25-year existence on the creative outer edges of European theatre, which began after the company’s founding members met as students in Nottingham in the 1980s. Super Night Shot has been seen in cities all across Europe, and in other locations from Brazil to Bangalore; and Patten explains that it’s based on the simple idea of a nighttime journey around a city, featuring four actors with synchronised cameras.
“I think the emotional impulse behind it is the idea that modern cities can be quite anonymous places, with people always hurrying, always gazing at their phones, rarely connecting. So we thought that maybe our synchronised journey could be a kind of war on anonymity. Four of us take on certain characters, we take our cameras, and we go out alone, for an hour, in different parts of the city, and start to talk to people. We ask them their problems, we offer to help, we talk to them about what they think of their lives.
“Then at the end of the hour, we take the film – with no cuts, and no edits – and show it to an audience of people from the same city, gathered in one place. The idea is to bring strangers together, and to capture that moment on film; but of course, because the people of the city are contributing so much, it also becomes a kind of documentary that tells us something about that city, and its spirit.”
In Glasgow, the Gob Squad team is set to hit the streets at 9pm, and begin the showing of the film – in the Arches on Argyle Street – an hour later; and if Glasgow seems like a city ideally suited to this show – a place where strangers are never slow to tell you their stories, or their philosophy of life – that’s only one of the reasons why the National Theatre of Scotland’s artistic director Jackie Wylie has been working to bring Super Night Shot to Glasgow for years, ever since she first glimpsed Gob Squad’s work as theatre programmer at the Arches Theatre more than a decade ago.
“We did succeed in bringing their show Kitchen to the Tramway in 2013,” says Wylie, “and then we staged Western Society at the CCA as part of our Behaviour festival in 2015, just before the Arches was closed down. But I’ve always wanted to bring Super Night Shot to Glasgow, and now it’s possible, with the support of the NTS and the European Championships Festival.
“I do think it’s a vital part of the NTS’s role,” she adds, “to bring the most exciting international companies here to inspire artists on the Scottish scene. And Gob Squad not only creates great shows; it’s also a proper collective with a unique way of working, and it seems really important to give artists in Scotland a chance to connect with that. In fact, while the company is in residence here, the NTS is going to set up a kind of Scottish arm of Gob Squad – a Super Night Shot franchise, if you like – to work with the company so that next year they’ll be ready to take Super Night Shot on a tour across Scotland, to cities and towns everywhere; and we’re very excited about that.
“And we’re also delighted to be presenting the show at the Arches – the first time it’s been used for a big arts event since its closure back in 2015. Of course, we know that the Arches can’t go back to being the place it was when I first went to work there with Andy Arnold, more than 10 years ago. But it’s good to feel that it can be used as an arts space from time to time – it’s still there, and still an asset to the city.”
For now, though, Sean Patten and the other six members of the Gob Squad collective are focussing on preparing Super Night Shot for the Glasgow performance of a show that was described in New York as “steeped in companionable cuddliness” and in Los Angeles as “dazzling – it transforms the familiar into something mythic, estranged, and uncannily monumental.”
“It’s amazing what people ask for, once you start to discuss their problems,” says Patten. “One of our hopes, I think, is that we can help people to see their own city in a new way. We’re trying to encourage people to look each other in the eye, rather than just rushing by; and perhaps to go back out into the world encouraged, and a little bit changed.”
Super Night Shot is at the Arches, Glasgow, on 9 August. Festival 2018 takes place across Glasgow, 2-12 August, www.festival2018glasgow.com