In the loop - Glasgow Subway Festival

Glasgow Subway Festival

Kirstin Innes finds out about the surprises in store for underground passengers – from Elvis impersonators to showgirls and 24-minute plays – during the second Glasgow Subway Festival

It’s every commuter’s nightmare, being stuck in a carriage with a talker. The sort of person who simply won’t respect your need to privacy in a public place; who wants to ask you questions, or worse, tell you all about their life. Or worse. Try and dance with you.

It’s a nightmare that’ll become all too real for passengers on Glasgow’s Clockwork Orange this fortnight, with the return of the Glasgow Subway Festival, two days of frenetic underground on-train activity where the performers take over public transport.

‘They’re very small, the carriages. You go leg to leg with complete strangers, and because of the way they’re laid out, you’re facing each other across an aisle, too,’ says Martin O’Connor, whose one-man play, Inner Circle, will happen in subway carriages across the festival. ‘But you don’t look at each other. In fact, you try and avoid each other’s eyes; you look at shoes or points on the roof. There’s all this unspoken etiquette about personal space that happens when you’re travelling.’

Inner Circle is a Glasgowised adaptation of the third part of Italian playwright Renato Gabrielli’s trilogy Death in the City (the first part, Mobile Thriller, which happens in a car driving across a city, was a hit in the 2004 Edinburgh Festival Fringe). ‘Renato’s piece, Number 90’s Child, was designed to be performed on public transport, and was written for the circular train in Milan. I’ve created a Glasgwegian version, with localised language and references, that lasts 24 minutes, which is exactly the length of one loop of the Inner Circle. I think a lot of people, once they get over the strangeness of someone performing in the carriage with them, will be able to relate to the character. He’s a very normal man, works hard, has a family, but is stuck in a commuter rut and has just begun to go through the motions. There’s a very particular rhythm to the script. It mimics the motion of the carriage and at first there’s a lot of repetition in the language that mimics the day to day pace of someone’s life.’

Although it’s possible to catch specific performances of Inner Circle by buying an individual ticket through the Arches box office, passengers can also trust to luck just by hopping in the last carriage of every train during the festival.

‘We’re going to have a performer on every train of the network throughout the weekend,’ says programmer Phyllis Martin. ‘As well as Inner Circle, there’s an ongoing soap opera, with different instalments in different carriages across the network; we’ve got Elvis impersonators, tigers playing saxophones, miniature Shakespearean plays, French showgirls, performance interventions, stand up comedy, on-train karaoke, classical music and acrobats, and we’ve managed to squeeze bands in, holding tiny, tiny gigs in the bottom of the carriage.’

If the underground activity gets a bit much for passengers, Martin is hoping they’ll pop their heads up and take part in the activities happening overground too. ‘The idea behind the festival was to show people all the amazing places across the city they can get to using the subway.’

Stop off at Shields Road for Victorian school-day workshops at Scotland Street School Museum; jump out at Hillhead for the farmer’s market at Dowanhill Primary School; and alight at Kelvinhall for breakdance and urban art workshops at Mansfield Park. St Enoch passengers can pick up two-for-one tickets for events at Sloane’s, the Arches and the Sharmanka Gallery. And Sharmanka has created a kinetic sculpture of Sputnik that will be on show at Partick, where there will be performances by the Glasgow Gospel Choir and aerial performers Spinal Chord.

‘We’re hoping that people will pay £3.50 for a Discovery day pass, and spend the day rediscovering their city,’ says Martin.

As O’Connor sees it, the festival is an opportunity to get people to think differently: ‘It is trying to show them the world’s not going to end if someone starts talking to you on the subway.’

Glasgow Subway Festival, Sat 23 & Sun 24 May. For full listings see Tickets for Inner Circle can be bought through the Arches at

Glasgow Subway Festival

For the second year running Glasgow's Clockwork Orange gets a festival all to itself as artists, performers and musicians head underground for shows at eight stations and a performance on the last carriage of every train (sat 10am-8pm; Sun 10am-5pm).

Inner Circle

Theatre on the subway as a passenger's daily routine takes an unexpected turn. Please be at the Bridge Street Subway Station of the start time, limited capacity. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Wild Life

Come face to face with llamas, goats, bunnies and birds of prey, hear stories, see science demonstrations and take part in craft activities with Alchemy Arts. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

The Subway Festival Markets

On Saturday take the Subway to Dowanhill for the Mansfield Park Farmers' Market or, on Sunday, check out the Subway Fashion Fayre for local craft bargains. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

The Underground Fairground

All the fun of the fair but underground. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Get Active

Free workshops and classes at Mansfield Park and Kelvin Hall Sports Centre in breakdancing, beatboxing, music production and urban art. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Jazz Café

This regular jazz night steps outside for the Subway Festival. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Overground at Partick Interchange

Overground events that were just too big to fit on a train: catch Sputnik (Sat 12.30pm, 2pm & 4pm); Puff Uproar and the Shimmering Sound Affair; City of Glasgow Chorus; The Kitsch Kats, Spinal Chord (Sun 12.30pm, 2pm & 4pm), Glasgow Gospel Choir, The Tumbleweeds, JUKKA Physical Theatre, Tango in the City or Random Azpekts…

Tango Milonga

Tango dance salon with taster sessions. Two-for-one with a Subway ticket. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Starlight Dinner Cabaret

Dinner plus entertainment from Daiquiri Dusk, Leggy P, Miss Hell's Belle and Cat Aclysmic. Two-for-one with a Subway ticket on the 7pm show. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Upstairs Mix Up

With JumpersKnee, The Only Jones and The Ray Summers. Two-for-one with a Subway ticket. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Tango Classes

Learn some sexy moves with Sari Lievonen and Jeff Allan from Tango in the City. Two-for-one with a Subway ticket. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Kinetic Gallery Theatre

Moving sculpture from Sharmanka. Two-for-one with a Subway ticket. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Rockwork Orange

Finish off the Subway Festival (and celebrate the impending bank holiday) with a massive rock line-up of Alfonzo, The Demon's Eye, Guitar Hero Rock Championships, The Down and Dirty Rockabilly Burlesque and secret celebrity DJs. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

Scotland Street School

Trés retro workshops in baking, schooling and crafts. 'Part of the Glasgow Subway Festival'.

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