On the weekend of 23 April 2012, giant marionettes hit the streets of Liverpool and mesmerised thousands of people, including me!
On Friday morning, I listened in to the start of their walk on BBC Radio Merseyside, when Little Girl Giant woke up from her slumber in Stanley Park, north Liverpool. That evening on BBC Northwest Tonight I watched them live as they made their way through Liverpool One, and I decided I would have to go and see them for myself.
I managed to get there by train later on Saturday afternoon. At Lime Street station, police were directing the crowds. Outside the station, I saw the streets were empty of traffic but thronged with people. Looking up along Lime Street, I saw the outline of a large moving figure.
I headed in that direction, and few minutes later I caught my first sight of the diver as he walked past the tower of St Lukes Church. His head seemed almost level with the top of the tower. The streets were lined with thousands of people of all ages from young children sitting on their fathers’ shoulders to old people in wheelchairs, all drawn by the sight of this gigantic man in an old-fashioned diving suit making his ungainly way along the street.
He was supported by a large improvised crane on wheels, a small army of French-speaking assistants, or ‘lilliputians’ all in red uniforms. Live music was played by a French band on a trailer following close behind. Over the speakers, a voice told the team what was happening: “Pied gauche levé! Posé! Pied droit levé! Posé!” “Left foot up! Down! Right foot up! Down!”.
And so the gigantic groovy marionette in the diving suit made his jaunty way towards Chinatown. Due to the massive crowds there was a bottleneck, so I headed back down Bold Street and over to the other end of Chinatown. Unfortunately there were too many people, streets were closed off,I couldn’t get anywhere near him so I decided to head down towards the Albert Dock and catch the other puppets.
Just by the bottom of Paradise Street, which was lined with thousands of onlookers, I saw I was in luck. Some distance up the street, I saw the dog Xolo and following not far behind, the towering and beautiful Little Girl Giant.
It was a magic moment finally to see both of them with my own eyes, as they made their way very slowly at first, but then more quickly towards me.
Soon they were in front of me as well as scores of other onlookers – here the crowds were a little thinner than elsewhere and I could get quite close. The giant size animatronic black dog was an astonishing sight. He moved right up in front of me nuzzling his face into the crowd, children patting his nose, as scores of devices snapped his every move. His tail wagged, his ears flopped down and he smiled with a wide, foxy grin, tongue hanging out. Though this was a robot made of papier maché and metal, people reacted in the same as they would have done to a real dog.
I got some great 3-D video and stills, then I followed them down onto the Strand and watched as Little Girl Giant was disconnected from her cables and lifted by a crane onto a boat. As the transfer took place the operator issued the instructions over the PA in French. I heard “Décrochage des coudes” – “Disconnection the elbows”, and more commentary.
It was a real boat, maybe a small fishing boat and it sat on a trailer. Water gushed from underneath it, some of the spray fell onto the crowds. Soon the trailer started to move, the giant girl looked down, opening and closing her eyes with an almost regal presence.
The assistants dressed her in a yellow sailors jacket and hat. She seemed to enjoy being the centre of attention and the yellow outfit really suited her…
See what I mean! For me she was becoming a real person, not just a 30 foot high puppet.
I got some great 3D video of her as she rode in her boat along the Strand. Hundreds more clutching cameras, phones, tablets and even iPads were doing the same as me but as far as I could see, I was the only one shooting in stereo 3D!
After the procession entered Princes Dock huge crowds followed them slowly forming another bottleneck near the entrance. I decided to I walk against the crowd as fast as I could back to the other entry road, and headed past the Echo Arena towards Kings Dock where I caught the final moments of the performance. Yet another crane hoisted the girl onto the divers’ lap. They hugged and before long fell into a deep sleep, and a snoring sound rang out over the speakers
That was the end of the proceedings for this evening but no one wanted to leave, so captivated were they by the two gigantic figures. Eventually I decided it was time to head home and started to make my way back towards the centre and Lime Street station. As I walked, I dictated the first draft of this article on the iPhone.
I love everything about Sea Odyssey, it’s fantastic, the best street theatre I’ve ever seen.
Giants are rooted in our psyche, in stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Gulliver’s Travels. Movies can do amazing things with CGI, but this is different. They are there standing right in front of you. I think that’s why the effect is so awe-inspiring.
The marionettes are truly hypnotic. They look and act as if they are alive. I’m sure many small children think they really are. Fantasy had come to life, a spectacle on an industrial scale played out not inside a theatre but on the streets of Liverpool.
The music was great too: French style rock played live, and quintessentially French melodies sung by Edith Piaf. Liverpool definitely became a little bit French today. I liked the playful Latin American music accompanying Xolo the dog: I checked on Shazam and it was Primavera by Michi Sarimiento & Sus Bravos!
The show was conceived and put on by street theatre company Royale de Luxe, based in Nantes. In France they think big. I feel that only the French have the panache and élan to pull something like this off.
I understand that it cost over £1.5 million to put on, but only a small part of this amount was paid by Liverpool City Council. Thousands of visitors have poured into Liverpool this weekend it is predicted that the event will have earned far more for the city than it cost to put on. I think the legacy will last a long time.
All I can say in conclusion (in very large letters) is:
Vive les marionnettes!
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Mon the Giant Spectacular Facebook page.
The website of Royal de Luxe, Nantes.