When giants walk the earth
Royal de Luxe’s planned Limerick show has not been without controversy. But to see it in action in Liverpool makes you appreciate that this is not a diversion – it’s an investment in the city
Some puppet: the Little Giant Girl in Liverpool. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty
Colossal: the Grandmother strolls through Liverpool. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty
An old woman dozes in the hot morning sun, her chest rising and dipping to the rumble of a snore that reverberates through the concourse of St George’s Hall in Liverpool. For two days she has lain inside the grand hall, stretched flat and receiving thousands of visitors, like a dignitary lying in state, but now it is time to get up. An eight-metre colossus with a soft and sympathetic face, she rests in a wheelchair while the streets nearby teem with people. A new journey is about to begin.
Royal de Luxe, street-theatre specialists from Nantes in France, have a way of creating a gargantuan spectacle, buttressed with ceremony and peppered with myths. The Grandmother, as this towering creation is called, has a number of backstories, the most comprehensible of which puts her age at 85 and traces her origins as half-Breton, half-Irish – something alluded to in her dress, a turquoise number patterned with shamrocks. In another biography, given by Jean-Luc Courcoult, founder of Royal de Luxe, she actually predates the big bang and arrived from a galaxy 14 billion light-years away.
There are, doubtless, some people who will understand that instinctively, but others can cleave to more concrete details, such as her fondness for pipes, whiskey or farting – which she does regularly and with a waft of vanilla.
Just don’t call her a puppet. When company members mention her they speak of the Grandmother as a family member, although, paradoxically, she is the youngest relative. Created two months ago, she is the most advanced of their marionettes, and has already featured in two of the company’s performances: a piece in Nantes entitled The Planck Wall and, last weekend, Liverpool’s Memories of August 1914, part of the city’s commemoration of the first World War.
Her next journey will be to Limerick, as part of Limerick City of Culture, an excursion that has not been without controversy.
The centrepiece of the original programme put together by Karl Wallace, the year’s former artistic director, it was notoriously described by the then arts minister, Jimmy Deenihan, as “some puppet show” when it emerged that the board had refused to sanction the event because of its price.
Reported as costing anything between €1.6 million and €1.8 million, in reality it came closer to €1.2 million, with just €315,000 of that paid to the company, and the remainder invested locally, in health and safety, technicians, site managers and local performers.
To see the event in action in Liverpool, retained for Limerick by Wallace’s successor, Mike Fitzpatrick, is to understand how such an event is not an extravagant diversion but an investment in a city.