Merchant City Festival


Merchant City & Drygate Brewery, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

LEGS in sizzling bright Lycra are unexpectedly sprouting out of dark doorways. Various madcap individuals are on the loose in the vicinity of Merchant Square, interacting with passers-by, luring some of them into playing oddball games. Elsewhere, a trio of tattered peasants are keen to tell the world their mind-boggling tales of horny-handed toil (circa the 1500’s) while a few streets away a couple of gung-ho politicians are clowning around in pursuit of our votes, their Dirty Laundry Campaign full of Trump-ed up handshakes and ever-lengthening ties. This is the Surge festival in action outdoors, delivering mischief and daftness throughout the final weekend of Glasgow’s Merchant City Festival.

If there’s much free-ranging hilarity in these pop-up antics, there’s also an element of creative energy that refreshes the everyday, familiar city. Those legs, for instance, make folk stop and look at buildings they probably don’t notice as they go to work or go shopping. The limbs belong to dancers from Cie Willi Dorner (Austria) and their performance is tagged Bodies in Urban Space, a title that belies the sheer inventive flexibility of how they insert themselves into nooks and corners of predominantly drab architecture, as if the facades had suddenly oozed hidden rainbows from within the bricks and mortar. All gone, now, bar the memories, and photos, of delighted onlookers.

At night, however, Surge headed indoors with two successive cabarets on-stage at Drygate Brewery. Pitch was a very mixed bag of physical performance where drag artist Gingzilla – a bearded lady a la Conchita Wurst, but ginger-hued – sang and strutted with scantily-clad aplomb, and stand-up Steve Vertigo made amusingly witty fun out of going on a date, with himself. What were two serious dance-makers – Mele Broomes and Chrissie Ardill – doing in among the rudery of Cocoloco or Josh Glanc, whose routines were in-yer-face phallo-centric? Who knows? Nonetheless, a cheerful audience put aside guffawing at rampant talk of dicks, willies and full-on macho attributes to applaud both Ardill and Broomes for raising the bar above the phwoar level.

Where were the clowns? They came on-stage the following night in a Clown Cabaret that showcased some of Scotland’s favourite pranksters and purveyors of mirth. Class acts included Ronan McMahon, all deadpan cool in The Expert Does Art, where the appliance of science draws clever visual punchlines, and Kirsty Nicolson, acting the slick-trick dude, King Biff, in The Pick-Up Artist and advising guys on how to pull hot chicks. Luckily her choice of audience participant was willing to go the whole hog, and shake his booty salaciously in a bid to attract the lay-dees.

In all, it was a hoot, not least when Them Peasants arrived to regale us with the Tragedy of The Swede, where actions – and sly incongruities – spoke louder than words, although the phrase “iambic pentameter” became a wonderfully unlikely source of high comedy in their archly-grotty mummery.