JOYCE MCMILLAN on SURGE FESTIVAL, GLASGOW: RED BASTARD, THE TIDE MACHINE , ETC. for The Scotsman 26.7.10
3 stars ***
IT’S WORTH REMEMBERING HOW COMPLETELY the old magical arts of popular entertainment were swept from Scotland’s streets 400 years ago, during our ultra-radical Protestant revolutions. The odd bout of acrobatics or clowning still survived, of course; and by the 19th century, Scotland was beginning to create its own distinctive tradition of variety and pantomime. Yet still, there’s a sense of something being reborn, around the Conflux Project – aimed at developing Scotland’s street arts, physical theatre and circus – that reached its climax in last week’s Surge Festival in Glasgow. And although most of the shows I saw during Saturday’s final celebration were created by visiting companies, there’s a clear interest in developing home-grown talent as fast as possible.
So in George Square, as I climbed off the train, I found Hilary Westlake’s group Used To Be Slime – half-a-dozen performers and a six-piece brass band – performing a polite but engaging piece of physical theatre about the weather, in the shade of a cunningly-designed set-cum-storage box that looked like the plinth of an average town-square statue.
Down at the Broomielaw, the Dumfriesshire-based Oceanallover company staged The Tide Machine, a lavishly-cast show featuring at least sixteen performers and a four-piece strolling band, and set around a “tide-powered, kinetic performance platform”- that is, a small stage surrounded by brightly-painted machinery, like a giant toy. The 40-minute show, inspired by the shapes and movements of exotic deep-sea creatures, seems to be about an encounter between three competing marine civilisations, one crab-like and grumpy, one white, scaly and aggressive, and one pink, orange and beautiful, like slender coral-reef flowers. The costumes and vocal sounds are astonishing; but the tide machine was a sad disappointment, since despite all its visible bells and whistles, it just sat there in the Glasgow drizzle, doing absolutely nothing.
Then it was on to the stunning-refurbished Briggait building for a brief and touching pole performance from Moritz Linkman, as a Dietrich-like transsexual icon from prewar Berlin; and back to the Arches for Red Bastard, a slightly terrifying 75-minute “buffon” show by Eric Davis of New York. The buffon is that red-costumed, bulbous, devil-like figure who cares for nothing and no-one except his own pleasures; Davis is a truly commanding, charismatic and original performer, using an ancient stage tradition to force the audience to think about the strange link between cruelty and freedom. And now, it seems like time to bring figures like the buffon into deeper contact with Scotland’s own tradition of stage comedy; if only to see where that new relationship leads.