OrangeFest 2012

Surrealist whimsy, Mario, Queen of the Circus and a 'bum-off' at City Hall – that's right, it's the 12th of July

Crack out the hog-roast – it's OrangeFest 2012! For those of us who don't fancy parading, or indeed protesting, the 12th of July has traditionally been a rather long, empty and tedious day.

But in recent years, some of the city centre shops have stayed open – gingerly at first, then with growing confidence – and there have been circus performances to liven up the afternoon lull. Put it this way, it beats sitting with a cup of tea and a soggy paperback under an umbrella in your back garden.

This year, a small encampment of tents on the lawn of City Hall provided a selection of both sweet and meaty snacks (that's the hog-roast) to munch while watching street theatre performances, courtesy of the Festival of Fools.

When I arrived at City Hall, Ramshacklicious – a pair of rather grubby Edwardians, by their appearance – were in full flow, parked beside the Queen Victoria statue with an eccentric-looking musical contraption.

One of the machine's chief features was a giant hairdryer, the static sort that you get in old-fashioned hairdressers, which was placed on the heads of members of the audience, each time emitting a different sound: a whistle, a pop, a Chopin nocturne.

This generated a fair bit of hilarity among the crowd, especially the little kids, but I must say I have a fairly low tolerance for such surrealist whimsy. As a rule, I like my street theatre fast, rude and subversive. (Members of my family frequently tell me that I have the crude sense of humour of a teenage boy. Believe me, it's not a compliment.)

One of the best Orangefest performances of recent years was by Mario, Queen of the Circus, an absurdly talented acrobatic Freddy Mercury tribute act, complete with tight leather trousers, drawn-on moustache and a devastating way with a unicycle.

What's more, if you're kneeling on damp grass or hard concrete to watch these performances, you need something pretty grabby to make up for the discomfort. It's not enough that they are free, though that's a charming benefit – they have to have pizazz, make you gasp with surprise, disbelief or delight.

Luckily, I found some street theatre more to my taste round at Cornmarket. Dansko Gida – 'live and direct from Vorsland in the Kaash Republic' apparently – was sporting a tight suit and one of those coloured eye-visors so popular in the 1980s.

I must say that at first he didn't exactly twirl my baton. He appeared to be extracting milk from two squeezy eggs suspended in a net from an ironing board. That looked like the start of some very bad performance art.

But things began to improve when he started forcing members of the audience to drink the watery substance. When it comes to street performances, you can't beat a bit of public humiliation – as long as it's not you who's the victim, of course.

Dansko rounded off by getting two male volunteers to put on a pair of stripy boxer shorts, each of which was equipped with a large set of comedy buttocks. He then placed the men at the centre of a ring of prostrate children and invited them to have a 'bum-off': bouncing cheeks together until one went sprawling, and left the victor standing.

Call me puerile, but this was deliciously funny. And it wasn't just me, the whole crowd was in stitches. The woman beside me had tears of laughter rolling down her face: 'A bum-off on the Twelfth of July? Who'd have thought it?,' she spluttered. Who indeed? Orangefest provides a radically different way of enjoying the marching season. Long may it continue.