Over the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th of October Liverpool and Wirral welcomed the Giants for the third time and what is said to be their final visit.
Royal de Luxe, the street theatre company from Nantes, France who specialise in using giant mechanical marionettes returned to what many feel is their second home for a spectacular and unmissable event. And this time the event included a day on Wirral as well as Liverpool city centre. The theme for their final visit was ‘Liverpool’s Dream’ as part of Liverpool, celebrating ten years since its designation of European Capital of Culture.
Liverpool’s Dream is commissioned by Liverpool City Council and funded by Liverpool City Region and Arts Council England with Liverpool and Wirral hosting the largest street theatre event to take place in the UK this year.
The first Giants event in Liverpool, ‘Sea Odyssey’, was held in April 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. The event had an estimated attendance of around 800,000 spectators. In July 2014 the Giants returned to Liverpool for ‘Memories of August 1914’ Liverpool’s World War I centenary commemorations which attracted an estimated one million visitors. This year’s event ‘Liverpool’s Dream’ celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture seemed to have an even larger attendance, it was difficult to get a space anywhere along the route and official sources suggest a total of 1.3 million spectators watched the event.
Royal Deluxe started their Giants spectaculars way back in 1993 and they have preformed in France, Belgium, England, Germany, Iceland, Chile, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands and Ireland. They have performed to over 3 million spectators at shows in both Santiago in Chile and Guadalajara in Mexico but the Artistic Director and founder of Royal de Luxe, Jean-Luc Courcoult, has announced that this event in Liverpool will be their last as the current family of puppets will retire after the event. It has been said that they are now working on a new show featuring a silverback gorilla.
For this year’s event there were three street marionettes. The Giants are controlled by dozens of Lilliputians. The Little Boy Giant was new to the City this year. He was inspired after working in African villages, Royal de Luxe created the Little Boy Giant in 1997 which was premiered in Cameroon. He is 20-foot high, weighs 600kg and needs 27 Lilliputians (23 from Royal de Luxe and 4 local) to manipulate him.
Returning to the City for the third time was the man Giant who is a massive 33-foot high and weighs 2.5 tonnes. Able to move at 2km an hour, he needs 44 Lilliputians (30 from Royal de Luxe and 14 local) to move his body which is made of steel, lime and poplar wood. His hair is made of horsehair, eyelashes made of broom hair and his eyes are streetlamp lights moved by small motors.
And also returning for the third time was Xolo (pronounced cho-low). A very playful dog scampering up and down the city streets is a firm favourite with many spectators. He is 9ft tall and weighs 200kg. The fastest of all the giants, he can travel at 4km an hour and needs 23 Lilliputians to operate him (19 from Royal de Luxe and 4 local). He is made of steel and papier mâché.
I managed to get to see the Giants on each the three main days of activity. The action kicked off on Friday morning in Liverpool on St George’s Hall Plateau with the Little Boy Giant and Xolo waking up and then setting out across the city. At the same time the man Giant was on the other side of the Mersey in New Brighton in Wirral waking up at Fort Perch Rock and then exploring the promenade and sea front. I managed to get here to watch him explore the town. The crowds were out in force and I could not get to see him lying on the beach where he had been ‘washed up overnight’. There was a brass band on the beach and a lone violinist played the ‘Leaving of Liverpool’ sat in a dump truck full of violins.
From laying on the beach overnight near to Fort Perch lighthouse the Giant was hoisted up from and fitted into his mobile framework and then he walked from Fort Perch along the main promenade, along the way he was given a drink by passing Firemen.
On his return to the Floral Pavilion in the afternoon the Giant was transferred onto a lorry and he would be taken over to Liverpool where he was discovered on a raft floating in Canning Dock on Saturday morning.
On Saturday all the Giants came together in in Liverpool and they spent the rest of their time in the city together.
I managed to negotiate the long queues at the local railway stations to get in and back out of Liverpool City Centre to see the giants in the afternoon sunlight along the Strand where the usual heavy traffic was absent.
On the Strand the Boy Giant and Xolo had a street race along the dual carriageway between Liverpool One and the Albert Dock.
The crowd joined in the excitement as the two sets of puppets controlled by the Lilliputians sped down the Strand and back performing a half dozen circuits, the boy giant with his special googles and steering wheel and Xolo in his running vest.
The show culminated on Sunday with a focus on the waterfront and a parade finale. I managed to get along in the morning to watch proceedings again from the Strand next to Salthouse dock. At the end of the morning procession the Little Boy Giant who was inside a giant sandal was dropped into Salthouse Dock and in tow to a small boat he was taken off in a cloud of smoke.
The Giant and Xolo continued their journey up to Brunswick Dock where they had a siesta before returning back to Canning Dock where they too were to leave the City once again.
We were told that as this is Royal de Luxe’s final ever time in the city, we could expect some surprises. Well I missed the main one which happened in the final part of the spectacular which took place on Sunday afternoon with a surprise appearance of the Little Girl Giant. She was dressed in a new red and blue patterned dress. Her old green one had been spotted hanging on washing line along with her yellow sou’wester coat suspended between Viva Brazil and Castle Street Townhouse on Castle Street which the Giant was lifted over on Saturday. Many people had expressed their disappointment that she wouldn’t be returning on social media, when this year’s Giants line-up was announced.
There were many other elements of street theatre during the course of the Giants weekend. Elements that I saw included the lone violinist in a dumper truck full of violins playing the leaving of Liverpool and a car with a fork sticking through it was spotted on Leece Street and I’m told a single decker bus was cut down the middle by a large knife near to St Georges Hall.
And after three full days the event was over and the streets of Liverpool returned back to normal once more. But I’m sure many people would like to see the Giants return again…