Robert Hampton

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22nd April 2012

On y va!
Posted by at 7.43pm | 1 response | Liverpool

Photo of Sea Odyssey Banner at St George's HallWhen I first read of the plans for the Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular, I was sceptical. These big set-piece events cost a lot of money and effort, but do they have any lasting impact?

My cynicism was increased further when Merseytravel published a list of bus diversions which ran to 12 pages, but could have been succinctly summarised as, “if you use a bus, you’re in trouble”. Was it worth causing this level of disruption to the normal life of the city?

As it turned out, yes it was.

For the uninitiated, The Sea Odyssey is a show based on the story of three giants: a little girl, her dog, and her uncle (a diver) who end up roaming the city in search of each other before finally being reunited. The giants are extremely sophisticated marionettes, animated by a squad of talented French performance artists who operate numerous ropes and pulleys to make the giants move. The show has been developed and designed specifically for Liverpool’s streets, and is a one-time-only event.

What set Sea Odyssey aside was the sheer scale of it. The Guardian previewed the event and noted that “Sea Odyssey will be – the Olympics aside – the largest outdoor event staged in the country this year.”

It started on Friday with events centred around Stanley Park in the north of the city, but I was in work so missed out. I took advantage of my lunch break, however, to stroll down to the Albert Dock, where one of the giants – the Diver Uncle – sat in the water, waiting…

Photo of Diver Giant waiting in Dock

He was due to wake up at 2pm, but I was expected back at the office by then, and to miss even a second at my desk would violate my strong work ethic (stop laughing, you).

On my way back to the office I passed this mysterious geyser which had appeared near to the Liver Building. Periodically it erupted with a gush of water, surprising the unwary (including me – a split second after taking this photo I got soaked as the wind blew the water droplets my way)!

Geyser on the Strand for the Sea Odyssey event

That was all the excitement I had for now. After work, I ventured down to St George’s Hall, where I was joined by my friend Andrew, freshly returned from China. A large crowd had already assembled in anticipation of the little girl giant. People nearby worried about not having a good view, but when you’re here to see a 30 foot giant, I don’t think views will be an issue.

Crowds gather to see Sea Odyssey

After about 20 minutes of waiting, during which time the excitement reached fever pitch, the appearance of a couple of police outriders heralded the arrival of the giants. First, Xolo the dog, who delighted the audience with his tricks.

Photo of Xolo the Sea Odyssey Dog

And then, the Little Girl giant, all 30 feet of her. A picture can’t possibly reproduce what it’s like to see this live. The ropes and pulleys – and the people operating them – largely fade into the background, and I started to believe that this was a real little girl.

Photo of the Little Girl Giant outside St George's Hall

The giants moved on into Queen Square Bus Station. Andrew and I quickly headed for Paradise Street, so we could see them all again!

Little Girl Giant in Paradise Street

That was it for Friday, but with my appetite suitably whet, it was a no-brainer to head back into Liverpool on Saturday to see more. After my morning gym session, I didn’t head home straight away and instead went to the Pier Head. There, an entranced crowd were watching the Little Girl Giant and Xolo enjoying a nap.

The attention to detail was marvellous – not only where there realistic snoring sounds, but the Girl’s chest raised and fell, as if she was really breathing.

Little Girl Giant sleeps at the Pier Head Xolo sleeps at the Pier Head

These two were not due to wake until 4.30pm, so I headed back into the city centre and once again reached St George’s Hall, where the Giant Uncle was due to make an appearance.

The previous night had been busy but the scene on St George’s Plateau on Saturday afternoon was something else entirely. Maybe it was because it was now the weekend, maybe it was because the weather was more clement, maybe it was because word had spread about how good the show was. Whatever the explanation, the area around St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station was packed with people, as families staked their place to ensure they had a good view.

Crowds gather at St George's Hall for the Sea Odyssey

All eyes were firmly fixed on London Road, as the excited crowd eagerly waited for the giant to appear from behind the Empire Theatre. There was a genuine sense that something special was about to happen. And when it did…

Oh my.

Sea Odyssey Diver at Lime Street

The crowd was transfixed by the behemoth in front of them. A raised eyebrow, a tip of the head, some hand gestures – they all combined to make this giant seem… human; like a new friend to the thousands of tiny people watching
in awe from below.

I was extremely jealous of the students in the halls of residence opposite, who had the best seats in the house for the whole thing.

Having safely arrived on Lime Street, the Uncle removed his helmet, sat down, closed his eyes… and slept.

Sea Odyssey Uncle Removes Helmet Sea Odyssey Uncle Sleeps

I turned to leave and head home, but this proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Since my arrival, the crowds had swelled still further, and the whole area around Lime Street was a sea of humanity. It seemed as though all of Liverpool had decided to come into the town for the day and occupy one tiny area. It was a fantastic sight.

Crowds outside Lime Street station

At Liverpool Central, the queue to board trains stretched out of the station, through the shopping centre and out into Ranelagh Street. There were a few grumbles, but for the most part people were understanding. I think the transport problems were actually something to celebrate, being a side effect of the event’s popularity bringing in thousands (hundreds of thousands) of extra people into the city to see all that Liverpool has to offer.

Crowds at Liverpool Central station

I came home and, feeling tired, decided not to head back for the evening’s events. I now regret this decision, as I missed the grand finale at Kings Dock when the Uncle and Little Girl giants finally met. Reports are that when the two giants embraced, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. We, the people of Liverpool have clearly taken these giant creatures into our hearts.

Hell, I had a tear in my eye, and I wasn’t even there – I just saw a picture on Twitter.

I want to offer genuine, huge, hearty, knee-slapping, standing ovation-style congratulations to Liverpool City Council and Royal de Luxe for putting on a huge, ambitious event. A few sourpusses will grumble about the amount it cost to stage (an estimated £1.5 million) but personally I could not be prouder.

It has put the city on the map for all the right reasons – check out the coverage in the Guardian, the BBC and the Telegraph, just for starters. It’s also brought in thousands of visitors to set the cash registers ringing in the local shops.

More importantly, the spectacle will have left a lasting impression on everyone who saw it, who will surely talk about it for years to come.

The only question now is: how can the city possibly top this in the future? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!

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One Response
  1. Comment by Colin Jones
    23rd April 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I can only echo your final remarks heartfelt gratitude to the Royal De Luxe and Liverpool City Council economically I am sure this will prove to be a remarkable success for our city but for me it has brought a shining light and wonderful feelgood factor back to the people in these hard times a million thanks you’s.