The first week of the summer holidays always seems to bring a burst of cultural action for me, Red and the boys and this year has been no different. The main event being the Giants: Memories of August 1914 (links and details at the end of the post). This is the street theatre creation of Royal de Luxe writer and directer, Jean-Luc Courcoult. Having previously brought us the Titanic inspired story Sea Odyssey, this time Courcoult, not a man to miss a trick such as the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1, has created a much more ethereal story in which the Grandmother crosses through space and time before passing away. As part of that journey she tells stories, in this case about the King’s Regiment in 1914 and one of the Pal’s Battalions that made up the regiment.
Bit of history – Pals’s Battalions were the War Office’s answer to troop shortages in the First World War. Recruitment focused upon local villages and events such as football matches to gather volunteers from local areas with the assurance that they would fight together as a group in the trenches. Sadly, not only did they get to fight together but they also got to die together, leaving large swathes of some communities without their young men – end of history lesson.
So this is the basic premise that Courcoult’s work is based upon – the Grandmother ambling around Liverpool sharing elements of the story whilst her grandaughter is also wandering around with her pet dog. Let us be honest, however, as it isn’t the story we have all come to experience, it is the Giants. These beautifully carved and constructed leviathans are incredibly impressive: the young girl, who we have seen before, has a haunting reality to her actions and movement. Whilst the Grandmother is a joy to watch in full flow (no not in the Wayne Rooney sense) but the sheer mechanics of her movement, as part of a choreographed ‘performance’ with the bouncing acrobats energetically pulling various ropes and levers to make it all happen (in some ways very similar to me getting out of bed after playing football the day before).
Up close the whole thing resembles something Fred Dibnah might have cobbled together with some meccano, balsa wood and a bit of araldite, constantly on the brink of implosion. The diesel engine chugging and breathless gasps of the troubadours are drowned out by the loud music coming from the trailing 4 piece band on a less romantic flatbed. But, it is as you move away, the giants become things of beauty, brought to life magically by the operators. The clever detail of their construction and movement give them a living presence which, when set against the backdrop of the many imposing and magnificent buildings in the city, they look alive. Indeed it is that combination of setting and marionettes that makes the whole thing work so well. Performed on an industrial estate in Slough and it might lose its magic but amidst the architectural beauty of Liverpool it fits perfectly.
So regardless of the slightly surreal story, the huge crowds gathering this weekend are in for a treat. Indeed it is the spectacle rather than the story that makes them the success they are. It doesn’t matter if you cannot hear the words spoken or if you do not understand the music and songs being played, as they are secondary to the living and walking spectacle. In this very modern world we live in it is quite heartwarming to think that over a million people are turning out to watch a ‘puppet show’! Since 2000 BC humans have been intrigued by marionettes and the stories their ‘manipulators’ tell through them and it is this interest and simple joy that is still alive and well on the streets of Liverpool this weekend. And long may such simple pleasures continue!
Giants website: here
Sunday Route Details:Here but remember it starts today (Sunday) at The Strand instead of Clarence Dock about 10am.