Big in Falkirk

Callendar Park, Falkirk, Sat 5-Sun 6 May. Free.

‘Nine or ten years ago, if I’d said to you “come and see a show in Falkirk” you’d have laughed at me.’ Neil Butler, Artistic Director of the Big in Falkirk festival, which has been running in Callander Park since 2001, is quite used to this particular uncomfortable truth: Glasgow and Edinburgh do tend to assume a lofty ownership over experimental art and theatre, and the idea of siting Scotland’s national festival of street art in Falkirk (of all places) initially met with derision. However, what’s so exciting about Big in Falkirk, which last year pulled crowds of over 100,000, is that Butler refuses to let stereotyped scoffing about the town dampen down the scale of his ambition, and this year his line-up features some of the best artists, theatre companies and musicians in the world.

It’s the sort of festival that seems exactly tempered for Callendar Park, that strange beautiful space which somehow manages to encompass 60s tower blocks and a stately home, Roman ruins, forest land and paddle boat-laden waterways. This year, the organisers have zoned off certain areas to cater to specific tastes. Inevitably, as the festival gets bigger and the names get starrier (this year’s headliners are Heaven 17 and The Human League), the music stage has drawn most of the focus. This year there’s a new bands stage too, showcasing Dance Lazarus Dance, winners of a Battle of the Bands competition the organisers have been running this year.

The East Village contains markets, chill out facilities, a funfair and a children’s play area. Deep in the forest, the Secret Garden showcases performance and street art, with artists installing themselves in the trees for eight-hour stints. Wandering through the park, you’ll encounter sounds quite unlike the synths up on the main stage; groups of musicians from all around the world have been dotted throughout the grounds playing instruments specific to their countries. They’ll all come together in a huge, climactic performance of the specially-commissioned symphony Before the Wolf at the end of the festival. Environmental artist Guyan Porter has curated an experiential exhibition throughout the grounds: video and neon installations in the woods, mocked-up monuments and wind-activated sound machines in the grounds, plants turning gold by the pond.

And there’s the fireworks. In 2006, the festival closed with spectacular pyrotechnics and a 50ft paper lantern in the shape of a swan being floated up the river. As this year’s grand finale involves a huge-scale outdoor performance of Frankenstein by French company La Compagnie Jo Bithume, expect things to take a turn for the Gothic.

For full programme see www.biginfalkirk.com

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