Between the 20th and 22nd of April 2012, the attention of an entire city was focused on a quite literally massive event.
The city was Liverpool, and the event was Sea Odyssey. A huge chunk of street theatre brought to life, as if by magic, by French theatre company Royal De Luxe.
The Story (in a nutshell)
A young girl from Liverpool writes a letter to her father, a steward, or a stowaway depending on which version you like more, on the ill-fated Titanic. Before he could send his reply the ship hits an iceberg and sinks.
The girl waits and waits for her letter. It never arrives.
The story of Sea Odyssey is the finding and delivery of that letter by her uncle, who has spent the last one-hundred years searching the ocean floor for her fathers reply.
I first read about Sea Odyssey in one of those City Council magazines that, to be honest, I never pick up. They're usually just full of stuff that doesn't interest me. Anyway, it fell through the letterbox one morning and I began to idly flick through it. The centre pages caught my eye. The article title screamed: "The Giants Are Coming!"
More than a little intrigued I began to read on. By the time I'd finished the article I was buzzing! I saved the magazine for my girlfriend, who at first didn't know what I was on about. She read the article but I didn't get the same sense of excitement.
April approached and I was still thinking about this Sea Odyssey. I was intent on going, even if it meant going on my own, I had to see this! I'd been to see La Princesse, La Machines 50-foot spider during its rampage around the city in 2008, when Liverpool was named the international Capital of Culture. How could I not go and see this??? Nearer the time though, my girlfriend, after twigging what it actually was, stated that she'd love to see it too. Sorted! Signs started appearing all around the city. Posters, adverts. I heard lamp posts were having to be removed from the streets along the intended route of the procession, which covered a large part Walton, Anfield and Kirkdale. How big was this thing???
I ended up working nights that weekend.
Undeterred I stayed up. We managed to squeeze onto a packed out train on the last day of the event, and arrived in the city centre among literally thousands of other passengers. We followed the crowd down to the Strand and got ourselves a spot just behind the Cunard Building, one of the world-famous Three Graces. We waited.
There were all sorts of people there, mainly children granted, but people of all ages had turned out. Roads through the city were closed, and before long it was standing room only.
We heard the music first. Pounding drums and blaring guitars, then we saw it, a giant! 50 feet of puppet, striding towards us! They disappeared around a corner and suddenly there they were, right in front of us!
Xolo the dog appeared first, ten-feet high and as big as a transit van, wagging his tail and flitting around between the cordons. His operators scurrying about and bringing him to life.
Next came Little Girl Giant, who by now had melted a city's heart. thirty-feet tall and brought to life by at least 20 operators, she strolled past the crowds to cheers and applause.
After Xolo, Little Girl Giant, and a truck load of musicians providing a vibrant, unique and exciting soundtrack to this "March of the Massives", Uncle came striding around the corner. Dressed in his deep-sea diving gear, he towered fifty-feet above the crowds and was operated by at least 32 members of Royal Deluxe, he was definitely something to see. Uncle was followed by a "truckboat" and a pair of huge cymbals
The picture to the right is intended to give some idea of the size of this giant, and hopefully gives a little perspective. Due to his size there were two teams of operators working his legs, and they managed to make him move flawlessly. Leaping off platforms and pulling on ropes to commands of "right foot, down!" and "left foot, down!" they actually made it look easy. With perfect synchronisation, intense teamwork and split second timing, it was amazing to watch.
We followed the procession along the Strand to the Albert Dock, along with thousands of other spectators for the finale.
The giants were leaving Liverpool.
They were to climb into a boat and sail off down the River Mersey.
They were hoisted into their boat by three huge cranes while other boats rocked the waterfront with more music from walls of amplifiers on their decks, or sailed around the dock pouring smoke onto the water, enveloping the crowds. Other boats and ships moored nearby blew their horns and whistles, the atmosphere was electric!
Once the giants were seated they gave the city one last wave as they made their way to the river, the music and smoke boats following in another wonderful procession as roaring crowds cheered them off, and little hands waved frantically as the last flurry of pictures were taken from the dockside.
Watching these giants walking through the city, it was so easy to forget that they were in fact just giant puppets. If you allowed yourself, however ridiculously, to imagine for an instant that there were no ropes, no pulleys, no frames, no support vehicles and no operators, then just for an instant, they seemed incredibly real. This was due in no small part to the amazing amounts of detail, time and effort that went into creating these larger than life puppets, as well as the skill and talent of their puppeteers.
We only saw the very last part of Sea Odyssey, but it's not something I'll forget anytime soon. Just like La Princesse in 2008, the people of Liverpool took these giants into their hearts, and gave them the run of their town. Hundreds of people, months of planning, and a cost of £1.5m, Sea Odyssey, for me personally, and I'm sure for the thousands of people who witnessed it, was time and money well spent.
DCB - Liverpool.