Merchant City, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

GROWN men in nappies asking to be adopted, bright-coloured dragons ducking and diving among passers-by and women, costumed as gaudy parrots, doing aerial antics inside a gigantic bird-cage... It is that time of year when Glasgow’s Merchant City gets festive, kicking off with last weekend’s Surge showcase of eye-catching street theatre. The statues in George Square were joined by new heroes on pedestals when members of dance group MotionHouse and NoFitState Circus scaled entertaining heights in BLOCK. With a crowd-pleasing emphasis on acrobatic brinkmanship, the performers – five men and two women – hefted a score or more grey monoliths into a series of walls, henges and finally a storeys-high tower block -cum-climbing frame. Woven through the physical derring-do was a strand of competitive rivalry, some aggro and some evident schism before constructive collaboration won the day, and the well-deserved applause.

Donna Quixota found the seemingly accident-prone Pina Polar setting up her book-stall on the corner of Garth Street where casual breezes caused its bits of cranky paraphenalia to fall over – or maybe the mishaps were already part of an affable clowning act that recreated moments from favourite classic tales, Treasure Island and Don Quixote among them. Polar’s flair for whisking ordinary objects into the stuff of make-believe adventures was matched by a lovely ability to switch from goofiness to clever, classy circus skills – not even Cervantes’ Don Q tilted at windmills while walking a tightrope!

A sense of the Merchant City releasing its ghosts came with the slow-moving figures in billowing white frocks that occasionally haunted Hutcheson Street in a fragment of Dudendance’s forthcoming Fringe show, The Lady Vanishes. Melting in and out of the lanes and doorways, the silent forms were like a mirage of the history we walk through, unthinkingly, every day.

Saturday night and Surge came indoors, with Clown Cabaret at the Tron. Seven very different solo acts gave a flavour of the rude and very daft good health of professional idiocy in Scotland. Andrew Simpson had us blowing raspberries not at, but to Beethoven’s music while Ruxy Cantir’s character Gregor J Everest – very much the bald-pated grotesque of tradition – captured that essence of try-fail-try again that (as Beckett also appreciated) sees poignancy and hilarity go hand-in-hand up the rocky mountain slopes of humanity.

The Merchant City Festival continues until August 7.