Street theatre team Royal de Luxe fill streets of Liverpool for Sea Odyssey spectacular

By Ben Miller | 23 April 2012
A photo of a pair of people dressed as sailors performing on top of a giant street boat
Crowds gather at Stanley Park before following Sea Odyssey through Liverpool
Event: Sea Odyssey, various venues, Liverpool, April 20-22 2012

At 9am on the outskirts of Liverpool, bus drivers are cheerily resigned to a day of disruption. Joggers, strollers and yogis have all been interrupted in Stanley Park, and the All-in-One newsagent is doing noticeably brisker business than usual.

A photo of a pair of people dressed as sailors performing on top of a giant street boat
Crowds follow the boat through the streets
All the major TV stations have already picked up a live soundbite with Royal de Luxe, the impish gaggle of French street theatre puppeteers taking centre stage.

They’re here with Little Giant Girl, a 30-foot child who will spend the rest of the day pursuing her 50-foot uncle – a diver holding a letter from her father, sent from the Titanic – through the streets.

A central space, paved over with charcoal-coloured plastic and flanked by two huge, curved speakers, sees the girl off under the gaze of a fleet of broadcast vans brandishing foam-tipped microphones and tripods.

A photo of four women in Victorian clothing posing for photos in a park
A Victorian quartet stake their claim for best-dressed attendees
Teams of giddy kids, husbands and wives walking overexcited dogs, tracksuited 20-somethings, even a quartet of ladies resplendent in tight Victorian dress pack the place. The abiding smell is of perfume, perspiration and petrol.

What’s taking place before our eyes is pure performance. A band are rattling out a succession of tinny rock carousel tunes behind the enormous uncle, swiftly morphing into samba-driven dance numbers, then Victorian jazz fairground jives and thudding swing standards.

A photo of a huge mechanical street theatre contraption arcing above a street crowd
Royal de Luxe have taken their feats of engineering across the world
They trail a squad of crimson-uniformed soldiers in a tug and ship ahead, who pause briefly to lever dozens of small buckets of water to and from the pavements.

Their work is incredibly intricate, so dizzyingly energetic that everyone feels a part of this surreal fairytale.

Then the whole booming anachronistic funk-out rumbles merrily past Anfield, Liverpool FC’s ground where the gates are already open.

Between the dock proceedings are headed for and these tight rows of houses interlocking the park, the whole breadth of a modern city can be witnessed. It would have been a wonderful spectacle without the sun kindly gleaming down, but it’s hard to imagine this many people dancing on the pavements or sashaying out of their front doors had the gloom of the previous day prevailed.

A photo of a crowded street following a giant boat during a sunny day
The procession passes Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club
To describe it as visually compelling would seem a given, yet it’s relatively simple sculpture and puppetry, realised on a grand scale of movement and engineering.

Elegant storytelling lies at its heart – curiosity is rife among the schoolchildren for a true tale hinted at in the melancholy of Little Giant Girl’s eyes (her uncle died on the ship 100 years ago).

The initial reports suggesting Sea Odyssey’s huge economic success across the weekend are no surprise. Liverpudlians took this pilgrimage to their hearts, driving the giants on.

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