Big in Falkirk - Ajay Chhabra and Mike Roberts
Singing in the rain
As Big in Falkirk, the free street arts festival, returns for its ninth year, Claire Sawers talks to two theatre directors who are incorporating Scotland’s notoriously unpredictable weather into their work
Anyone staging outdoor theatre in Scotland crosses their fingers – and toes and eyes – that the weather will behave itself at showtime. But for Ajay Chhabra, co-artistic director of nutkhut, who is bringing the dance and pyrotechnic spectacle Bollywood Steps to Big in Falkirk, a dramatic downpour is all part of the plan. At one point, dancers peel off their traditional saris to reveal hotpants and skimpy tops, then frolic under huge water fountains. ‘You’ve got to understand; in India the summer heat is unbearable. When monsoon season arrives, it’s a time of release, and water represents something sensual and liberating.’
The multi-coloured show has been touring for the past three years, in locations like Trafalgar Square and Wembley Arena, but for Big in Falkirk, ‘Scotland’s national street arts festival’, they will perform in front of the dramatic backdrop of Callendar House. Chhabra believes dance and theatre should be accessible to all, with no ticket price, and definitely no snobbish airs and graces. ‘We want to put on something vibrant and exciting, by no means just for Asian audiences.’ Just as Bollywood’s cinema has done for decades, nutkhut’s (which is Sanskrit for mischievous) show borrows from Eastern and Western culture, cutting and pasting salsa, hip hop, flamenco and street dance. The story follows a typically Bollywood boy-meets-girl format, with 140 different costumes, sets dripping in flowers, a lavish wedding scene and more colour and sparkle than a Las Vegas showgirl. ‘It’s a love story basically, but a very in-your-face, loud, breathable and memorable one.’
Going for the same pull-out-all-the-stops approach is Mike Roberts, director of The World Famous pyrotechnics company. Their world première of Full Circle also doubles as a finale to Falkirk’s two-day festival, which is expected to attract crowds of over 100,000. ‘The theme of Full Circle is how humans interact with the environment,’ Roberts explains. ‘But not in a didactic “save the world” way.’ Taking place after dark, the spectacle moves through the seasons, using fireworks and live music to pull the audience’s senses in different directions. ‘We begin in winter, when everything is glistening and calm, with silver and violet fireworks. By the time the summer’s oranges and golds have arrived, it’s time for a huge storm, and everything gets very full-on and manic.’
Although the show has no performers – just balls of fire, huge props and massive light projections to fill the stage – the soundtrack is provided by Terrafolk, a Slovenian folk-pop group, who flip between classical music and gypsy folk via a heavy rock version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’. The band are hidden inside six metre-high flower pods that blossom as the show goes on. ‘Every year the weather takes you on an emotional journey, and we’ve tried to recreate that in 40 pretty dramatic minutes.’
Bollywood Steps by nutkhut, Sat 3 May, 3.45pm & 9.45pm; Sun 4 May 3.45pm & 9.15pm.
Big in Falkirk - Best of the rest
Live theatre mingles with the crowd over the weekend, including a walkabout performance from French nutters Cacahuète. For their black comedy, Mama’s Funeral, they’ll carry their beloved ‘maman’ around the park in a coffin, on the lookout for the local cemetery. Just as urgent is Mafia Wedding, from the British-Australian theatre group Cocoloco, in which a gangster’s daughter is seconds away from giving birth, but can’t seem to find a priest, midwife, or a father for the baby for that matter.
Local talent will be allowed to shine when Falkirk’s Children’s and Youth Theatre collaborate with Scottish company Poorboy, who specialise in site-specific theatre. They’ve put on shows in Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens and the Glasgow Underground in the past, but this time they’re using the nooks and crannies of Callendar Park as their stage. Their production of Changelings explores the mysterious world of the imagination and dreams, and will take audiences deep into the woods for a story about a cold and creepy house.
Just like people who say, ‘I’m not angry’, or ‘I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye’, 10CC weren’t fooling anyone when they sang their 70s hit, ‘I’m Not in Love’. The English soft-rockers, also famous for ‘Things We Do For Love’, are headlining the Music Stage on Sunday, after Glasgow disco-rock from Danse or Die, high-energy Celtic dance beats from the Peatbog Faeries and acoustic pop from Esther O’Connor, daughter of Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin. Brighton folk rockers The Levellers, who are celebrating two decades of making music this year, will headline on the Saturday. New musical talent will also receive an early career boost, when the winner of Big in Falkirk’s Making It competition performs live on the Music Stage. In the past Snow Patrol, Sandi Thom, Orson and Amy McDonald have all performed at Big in Falkirk, long before they started making any waves in the charts.
Those who prefer a more intimate musical experience rather than the throng of a crowd may care to check out The Sir Tom Jones Experience. In this handbag-sized karaoke unit, visitors can get up close and personal with Tom, and may even be able to hand him a pair of pants rather than throw them at him.
Under-fives have their very own Fun Tent, with an obstacle course and bubble machine, while big kids of all ages can get down in the Village Disco – a mobile, miniature dance floor. They have a strictly ‘anti-cool’ policy, and DJ requests are encouraged. For nature lovers, The Insect Circus Museum holds such delights as a worm charmer, dancing snails and a wasp tamer, or there’s always the opportunity to delve into the realms of fantasy with Dragon Quest. Put on by women’s circus theatre company Circo Rum Ba Ba, the show uses over the top costumes, a smoke breathing dragon and circus magic to find out exactly why the dragon’s eggs aren’t hatching. Audience participation is a key part of the bizarre and colourful company’s work, and this time around, they may be looking for child volunteers to help incubate the dragon’s eggs.
Acknowledging that children will never tire of watching people hurt themselves, as long as it looks funny, Bureau of Silly Ideas are putting on The Hole Job, a 40-minute acrobatic comedy show. Set around the glamorous backdrop of some everyday roadworks, and given the tag line ‘blood is thicker than tarmac’, the three circus brothers will bounce and backflip their way through their white-knuckle daredevil show.
Festival goers can get their five-a-day portions of sport, with a mobile climbing wall, ski-slope, inflatable football pitch and golf and basketball in the Sports Zone. Or for spectator sports, The Falkirk Cheerleaders are one of several acts performing in the Fringe Tent. There’s also a family funfair, plus the newly added Secret Garden Market, with stalls selling home-made crafts and holistic therapies. The Food and Drinks Village boasts hot and cold food stalls as well as a FairTrade Pavilion offering food tastings. Failing that, there are no rules against bringing deckchairs and rugs and setting up your very own picnic spot in the park.
Big in Falkirk, Callendar Park, Falkirk, Sat 3 and Sun 4 May. The event is free. For full listings see www.biginfalkirk.com