Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular
April 20 – April 22
Artistic Director: Jean- Luc Courcoult
Running Time: 3 Days.
Producer: Royal De Luxe in association with Liverpool City Council
They came, they saw and they conquered our hearts. Two huge Giants – one, a thirty foot Little Girl, and another her fifty foot tall, diver’s suit enshrouded Uncle – and their over-sized, intrinsically adorable dog, Xolo, searched Liverpool’s streets from dawn on early morning Friday until lunchtime Sunday and left a city spellbound.
This was undoubtedly a moment of pride and exhilaration and pomp and ceremony. For a city that has so much negativity so unjustly reported about it, here was an event in which the City invited the world to take part and hosted it magnificently well … for the most part.
Comparisons to previous events are extraneous. La Princess – the fifty foot spider that roamed the city streets in 2008 remains a highlight of Culture Year – but this was something else again.
As we entered the wonderfully picturesque Stanley Park, a slight chill in the air but blue skies, the only blot on the landscape were two enormous cranes in the distance, as we approached the cranes, following the crowds of thousand which included talks of wonder and excitement from both Children and Adults alike, as we got closer we could hear a gentle snore, that’s when we knew the Giant Little Girl was asleep, where we stood we could just see her head peeping out, even then we could clearly see her mouth open and close slightly as she gave out a snore. As the crowds grew, so did the anticipation of what’s to come. 9.30am came and went, the Giant Little Girl was still asleep which only heightened the excitement, in typical scouse humour the women next to me elbowed me and said “She must like a lie in”. The crowd began to part where we stood, as the volunteers began to clear the path . I must say the amount of volunteers was incredible, each one of them smiled and were pleasant and seemed just as excited as I was to be there.
Then there was a rumble of applause, in the distance we could see a crowd of puppeteers walk past looking very focused and ready for the amazing task ahead, it was almost show time. The music began, a slow lullaby to rouse the girl from her slumber, from our vantage point we could just see a tail wagging, then the head of the dog popped up to wake the little girl with a lick on her face, then our Giant little Girl was fully awake and began to take in her surroundings. Now she was awake she needed to get ready, and what must every little girl do…. Take a shower!!!! Utterly incredible, the fountain of water cascading over her, it was a delight to see, she raised her arms to wash her hair, while this was going on her excited not so little dog began to race around her and peep up every so often on his hind legs over the crowd and pant as well as sniffing and slobbering like any dog would. At this point you had to remind yourself that they were puppets despite all the wires and cranes you were already sucked right into her world.
Now was the time for her to get dressed, sitting down, the wonderful puppeteers began to dress her in her recognisable green dress, with the dog still running round at a great speed all adding to the build for her venture through Liverpool. She was dressed and ready, now fully stood, her dog once more approached her as if to say “Are we going for a walk now?”, The Giant Little Girl then stood, we knew now was the time for her journey, I looked at the faces around me, many an open mouth of sheer amazement, but still wonder of how big she really is. In the distance we could then she the excited little dog coming towards us, screams and laughter from the crowds then the music really kicked in and boomed through your body with instantly recognisable melodies of Day Tripper and Hello, Goodbye incorporated into the beautiful score.
As the cameras and phones raised in the air and screams of children grew nearer we knew the dog was fast approaching, and here he was, stopping to sniff the ground and the people around him, I was very fortunate to be extremely close to him, seeing the magnificent detail and work that has gone into the construction of these amazing characters, the puppeteers seem invisible to you as you watch the dog waggle his ears and tail and blink in such a lifelike way. Then the giant little girl approached, and it was only then that the true scale of this puppet was realised. As she passed, blinking in the sunlight she turned her head taking in her surroundings and smiled, her giant head lifted and lowered with complete fluidity. The puppeteers around her pulled on huge wires and we were reminded that this is no easy task as the beads of sweat where already visible.
Then she had passed us and we were greeted with a fantastic live band. These guys looked like they were having a whale of a time. Smiling and laughing at the crowd and creating a carnival atmosphere. We felt compelled to follow, as many did, and the crowd dispersed as the music slowly faded. It was almost like a “pied piper” moment.
Much the same was true, later in the afternoon as Uncle came to life, hoisted from Albert Dock to join his huge container holding the mail he has supposedly retrieved from Titanic … and one important letter for his niece which had been written by her father assuring he was – as creator Jean Luc Courcoult explained as the damp Sunday finale commenced at Kings Dock - “comfortable, despite his lack of a porthole preventing him from being able to see the sea”
Striding along The Strand, the fifty foot Giant dwarfed those looking on far below, walking with the aid of an squadron of men and women bedecked in crimson suits who magnificently swung from pulleys to operate the legs, whilst others controlled the arms and eyes and head from above.
To say that this is a marvellous feat of engineering is as big an understatement as saying Courcoult is an okay artistic innovator. To even think of this as a concept is incredible. To bring it all together is, well, almost beyond description.
And so the day proceed, with the girl finally entering the city at teatime to march confidently pass and along a packed Lime Street, whilst Xolo gambolled on into Queens Square, pausing only to cheekily relieve himself near the bus stops before heading out in Liverpool One and the Docks where they would rest with her dog curled up beside her … snoring and yelping in Belgian / French beside her … as Uncle came to rest in Stanley Park for the night.
And next day, it was on again, bright and early. The girl waking to head along to Moorfields, to don old style aviators cap and goggles to ride her scooter past Pier Head, whilst Uncle march steadfastly along London Road to snooze awhile out St George’s Hall and The Empire Theatre, where hopefully matinee audiences were not too disturbed by his echoing snores as they, somewhat ironically, watched Susan Boyle’s musical I Dreamed A Dream.
We tromp the streets of Liverpool from Pier Head to the Kings Dock and all points in between in our hundreds of thousands. Business was brisk, the crowds huge – as many as 750,00 over the three days are estimated to have assembled to witness this free event, with close on 40,000 outside to see Uncle depart from Saint George’s Hall on the Saturday alone – and thankfully, the weather was kind with only a few showers dampening the spirits.
Few will forget the Uncle being watered at the top of Berry Street on the Saturday afternoon; a jet of high powered water being aimed into a huge funnel from a Cherry Picker manned by members of Merseyside’s Fire Service. Nor to will they forget how the little girl carefully minded toddlers being gently swung to-and-fro on her vast wrists outside of the Town Hall … a photo to treasure for ever and a day to be sure. And lest we forget, the dog, who faithfully stayed by the Little Girl Giant’s side, until allowed to stand on two legs for children to pet his head with his ears pricked, tail wagging and his tongue lolling in appreciation.
Anybody who saying they were a waste of money – a mere £300,000 of Council Money – and brought no financial benefit to the city should have tried getting lunch on the Saturday anywhere in the city centre or, indeed, even a bag of chips from the Lobster Pot on Whitechapel where the queue outside was nearly as long as the Little Girl Giant herself.
Coming to rest at Kings Dock, the three finally met and their embrace brought a cheer of such magnitude from the masses their assembled, glass eyes leaked salt water which, in a trice, was quickly dispelled by cheers of joy as the Little Girl Giant danced vigorously with delight before settling down, safely enwrapped in her Uncles arms, whilst sitting on his lap, with Xolo not too far away.
Early morning beneath leaden skies, Xolo – accompanied by the magnificent touring bands who’s skill and musicianship brought a festival dimension to proceedings beyond compare or measure throughout – skipped across the dock car par to wake the sleeping Giants by turning on a vast record player.
Once more the Girl jigged, before Courcoult mounted – somewhat precariously – the Red Cargo Container marked White Star Line, to read the father’s letter to the Little Girl Giant. An epitaph to those who had perished that was delivered in an emotional and heartfelt way that struck its listeners into silence and gentle appreciation.
Then it was off to The Strand to say farewell to The Three Graces and this, sadly, is where – from this reviewer’s standpoint – things fell sadly away.
Every detail had been catered for it seems, from the blinking of eyes to the thousands of letters handwritten by locals representing the thoughts, hopes and dreams of those who had perished 100 years ago being hurled out from a giant, cymbal clad canon. Yet still crowd control became an issue for thousands following in their wake as they became corralled at Albert Dock Gates, to await their return and then to be ordered to push back into spaces behind that didn’t exist when it became apparent there was no longer room for the Giants to turn in. A Health & Safety dilemma that caused risks to Health & Safety? Surely not?
The audience – young, old and infirm – were being pushed and barged into by their compatriots who seemingly knew as much as the stewards as to what was required of them, that is to say precious little, with many becoming increasingly irate and not a little scared. The lack of announcements as to what exactly was due to take place – and from where – soon manifested itself still further, with the much anticipated Grand Finale. The Giant’s boat was due to set sail at 2 pm, but instead departed at 12:30 – with less than a quarter of the crowd to see them on their way, meaning that many who had made the quest to follow them on each step of their journey over 3 days, remained trapped in their quadrants of crash barriers and so missed the flotilla’s single lapped escape entirely.
A disappointing end, yes, but this should not detract from what an enormously uplifting, pride inducing spectacle this was. Nor should it detract from the people of Liverpool who came out in their hundreds of thousands as one to stand proudly together and say to all comers, “Look what we’ve gone and done now” with immeasurable pride.
Chris High & Charlie Griffiths.
Charlie trained at LAMDA. Theatre credits include - ‘Helen’ in ‘Road’, ‘Lady Macbeth’ in ‘Shakespeares People’ (Severn Theatre), ’Everyman’ in 'Everyman', ‘Lesley’ in ‘Her Big Chance’ (Little Theatre), ‘Cleopatra’ in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (The Lowry), ‘Joanna’ in ‘Love, Lies and Limbo’ (The Everyman), ‘Katie Brown’ in ‘Wishful Thinking’ (Unity theatre), 'Veronica' in 'LIFE' (Little Theatre) 'Janeece' in 'Blind Faith' (Unity2 & Preston Tringe), 'Maria' in 'Fractured Soul' (Everyman & Playhouse), 'Chanel' in 'The Ciggie Run' (Theatre Royal). TV and Film credits include - 'Molly' in 'Childrens Ward', ’Judes Neighbour’ in 'Across the Universe', ‘Darla’ in 'Marmalade' , ‘Kate’ in 'Faith in Chaos', ’Claire’ in 'Dreamwalker', ‘Kelly’ in 'Kellys Night' for Cannes Film Festival , ITV‘s ‘Appropriate Adult‘ and Childlines TV campaign 'It's Good to Talk'. Charlies performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice in 'Creation and all That Jazz'. And received outstanding reviews in 'The Stage' playing 'Kelly' in ‘Bully!’ which she also Co-Directed. Charlie produced & performed in sell out performances of 'Down Our Street' at 'The Unity Theatre'. Charlie's due to film a TV drama pilot called 'Young and Dumb' and is currently touring Nationally in Dean Johnsons Musical 'Bullets and Daffodils' and will perform it on the West End in July 2012. She alos performs with her sister, Claire Germaine-Griffiths in the popular duo Killa Sista across Merseyside.