Liverpool Giants: The city, Royal de Luxe and the Pals
- 23 July 2014
- From the section Liverpool
Giants are set to roam the streets of Liverpool as the city gives itself over to Royal de Luxe's Memories of August 1914.
The city-wide show will see three giants - a girl, a grandmother and a dog - wander through the streets, telling the story of the city's involvement in World War One.
The exact details are shrouded in secrecy but the enigmatic French street theatre company is promising a "spectacular, emotional journey".
An estimated one million people are expected to take to the streets of Liverpool to discover whether organisers can deliver.
But what will they see? Who are the giants? And will one of them really fly away through space and time in a floating coffin?
What is Royal de Luxe?
Formed in 1979 and led by writer and director Jean-Luc Courcoult, Royal de Luxe is a French street theatre company which has played more than 1,000 shows to 18 million spectators in more than 170 cities across the globe.
The company began to specialise in giant marionette shows - featuring both human and animal characters - in 1993, staging productions in France, Spain, Chile, Iceland, Belgium, Germany, Mexico and the UK.
The company first visited England in 2006 with The Sultan's Elephant, a show which saw a 50-tonne time-travelling pachyderm roam the streets of London in search of a little girl.
It was seen by about one million people and is thought to be the largest piece of street theatre ever hosted in the capital.
Six years later, Royal de Luxe returned to England - this time to Liverpool - with a show called Sea Odyssey. The production told the story of a man who perished on the Titanic, his orphaned child, her diver uncle - and a dog.
The event drew hundreds of thousands of people the city and, according to Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, its legacy left just one question: "When are they returning?"
Mr Anderson believes the "genius" of Royal de Luxe should never be underestimated. "Not only do they create giant characters which everyone has some sort of connection with - they are also masters in tapping in to the heart of a city," said the mayor.
Memories of August 1914 will see the company making those connections in Liverpool all over again.
What is happening in Liverpool?
The latest show marks the World War One centenary and is described by organisers as a "poignant and spectacular piece of street theatre which will once again see giant visitors embark on an emotional journey around the city".
Mr Anderson said it would transport the city "100 years into the past, back to a time when the world was on the cusp of changing forever".
"How Liverpool was affected and how the city responded will be played out on the streets," he added.
According to Royal de Luxe, the majority of the story will be told by the grandmother giant in her own language, which will be translated in subtitles.
A spokesman said she would tell the story of "happy people who went away in 1914 with the King's Regiment, their hope brimming with courage to save the ideal of their time".
"And then, she will go away through space again in a big floating coffin."
Those "happy people" were the Liverpool Pals, the battalions of local men who answered a call to arms by Lord Kitchener and signed up to serve in World War One.
Spurred on by Lord Derby 5,000 men joined the Pals, with 2,800 of them dying in the war. Some of their stories will be included in the show.
The exact details of what the Liverpool Giants will be doing and how the story will unfold remains under wraps - for Courcoult, an element of secrecy is one of the most important elements of the company's shows.
His explanation of why includes a unique analogy. He said: "Imagine stopping at a red light and seeing a man and woman up to their necks in peas and carrots - you'd think you were still dreaming and pinch yourself."
"But if the pictures had already been in the newspapers, it would spoil everything."
Who are the giants?
According to Royal de Luxe, the giants come from the "space between two clouds of the Milky Way... [from] behind the big explosion which took place 13.7 billion years ago and which our physicists will call the Big Bang".
That means they have to "cross the Planck wall" to arrive - the wall being quantum physics founding father Max Planck's theoretical edge of the known universe.
In reality, they are huge marionettes - the little girl, a feature of many of the company's shows, towers over the audience from a height of 5.5m (18ft), batting her broom hair eyelashes and flashing her street lamp eyes.
The grandmother, the first marionette the company has made with a silicon skin, is even bigger, standing at a height of 7.5m (25ft).
Yet despite the wires and mechanisms that surround them, Royal de Luxe executive director Gwenaille Raux says they should "never" be referred to puppets.
She says they are giants "because they are alive".
Whatever they are, the Giants move with the help of "Lilliputians", members of Royal de Luxe and volunteers who animate them as the shows progress.
The grandmother uses the most Lilliputians, with 26 driving her and four moving her 6.5m (21ft) high wheelchair. The little (giant) girl needs 22 helpers to walk and 20 to move Xolo, the steel and papier-mâché dog, Xolo.
"My enduring memory of last time is seeing a guy off a building site lean down and pat Xolo."
Their reality is only half of the story though - Royal de Luxe's spokesman says the giants are filled with "audacity and poetry" that thrills spectators.
Liverpool culture director Claire McColgan says the appeal of the Giants is that they are "so accessible that even the hardest-hearted people will have their hearts melted".
Recalling the 2012 Sea Odyssey event, one spectator Paul Chapman said it was "excellent to stand on the streets and see thousands of people, all smiling".
And while Courcoult says the story this time is "not beautiful [but] dramatic", chances are those smiles will be on show again.
Where and when can I see them?
Liverpool's giant spectacular officially begins on Wednesday at 10:00 BST when the grandmother will be seen "lying in state" at St George's Hall.
Members of the public will get their first chance to see the giants moving on Friday morning when the little girl and Xolo the dog will set off from the Queensway Tunnel en route to Newsham Park. The grandmother will leave the hall shortly afterwards.
Full details of routes and timings are available on the Royal de Luxe giant spectacular website.
BBC News Online will be following the giants through Liverpool with live text coverage, pictures and video of the events. For more details, visit the BBC's dedicated Liverpool Giants page.