Sea Odyssey: Giant hopes for Liverpool

Emily Jupp meets the "Lilliputians" who work for theatre company "Royal de Luxe" and gets the reactions from the streets

Something is happening in Liverpool. Radio Merseyside has been broadcasting the sound of snoring in the background of its programme all morning, there is a giant deep-sea diver’s helmet, just visible above the surface of the Mersey, some electricity pylons have moved and there are a lot more French people here than usual.

These subtle changes herald a massive event: the giants are coming. Everyone in the city seems to know about the giants,“I heard the diver is going to shake the mayor's hand” says a fellow train passenger, “Oh those things” sighs my cab driver, “they'll be blocking up the roads”.

“There's supposed to be a giant dog” a woman tells me at the Town Hall, overflowing with excitement, “and he wees on everyone”.

On the whole, Liverpudlians seem very pleased to be the hosts of the country's largest street performance by the French marionette company Royal de Luxe. “ People aren't talking about them like they're puppets. They're talking about them like they're real” says Claire McColgan, Director of Culture at Liverpool City Council, who worked with Royal de Luxe for two years to figure out how to bring the giants to the streets.

It's a massive operation. Aside from the logistical issues like how to turn a 50-foot-tall marrionette around in a busy street there is the problem of mechanically making them move. It requires between 20 and 30 people to operate each giant, plus around 200 volunteers from the local community to act as guides stationed along the roads.

This is the first time the giants have been able to march across a whole city, thanks to a very adaptable local council. When the giant spider arrived in 2008 to celebrate the European Capital of Culture, designed by another French company La Machine, it needed to cross a junction with a giant roundabout blocking it's path. Rather than abort the visit from the arachnid, the council solved the issue by removing the roundabout. Similar issues came up this time and were resolved by subtle alterations to the layout of the city.

At 9.30am on Friday, around 15,000 people are gathered in Stanley Park, where the snoring comes from. A 30-foot-tall giant girl is sleeping with a very large black Mexican dog, named Xolo (pronounced “chollo”) on her lap. A sea of children are chanting, “Wake up! wake up!”, then slowly, almost imperceptibly, her eyes begin to open, she looks around, perplexed by the sight of the strange crowd.

“It was very emotional” says Veronica Reddy, a local, 42, “the atmosphere was electric, you could smell the sea air”.

“You can tell she's one of us” adds Lynne Edwards, 57, smiling, “'cos she's got a scouse brow.”

I tell Gwenaelle Raux, the Executive Director of the company, what people are saying. “It's very funny because in Santiago they said she seems to be from Chile and in Mexico they said she was Mexican. It's a universal language, with the eyes, the heart and the manipulation.”

As the Royal de Luxe operators, who call themselves Lilliputians, help the girl to get showered and dressed to the music of The Liverpool Philharmonic Children's Orchestra, it's true that words aren't needed to tell the story. The girl giant's eyes seem full of expression; she is lost – and looking for someone.

“When she woke up this morning, I felt in the public there was emotion,” says Helene Sarrazin, an actor and director who controls the girl's eyes. She always takes an assistant from the city where the company performs to get a sense of the area and its people. She walks backwards, facing the giant, so she has little contact with the audience, “I don't look at the public, but I feel them,” she says. “I feel with the soul.  I can tell the people of this town are very nice and they are with us. This morning it was very, very...” she clutches her chest, clearly moved. “I think the town likes it.”

Later the 50-foot-tall diver emerges from the sea and walks to the Town Hall, where he greets the Mayor. The audience has swelled to nearly 50,000. The sensitivity of the Lilliputians, along with their physical energy, as they haul the pullies that operate the giants' wooden limbs, seem to breathe life into these ethereal creatures.  Sarrazin even speaks as though she is merely a conduit for the girl giant's feelings: “She is very, very expressive, even if I do nothing.  I am very transparent...I have to think about what her desires are. I have to be very open and just reactive, not active.” I begin to suspect the giants might have souls.

Sea Odyssey runs from Friday 20 April to Sunday 22 April

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?