Memories of August 1914

Jean-Luc Courcault
Royal De Luxe, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW
St George's Hall and Liverpool City Centre

The Grandmother Credit: Mark McNulty
The Girl and Xolo the dog Credit: Mark McNulty
The Grandmother on the streets of Liverpool Credit: Mark McNulty

“It’s like the Beatles are back,” said a voice in the crowd. And judging by the vast ocean of people cramming into Liverpool’s city centre on a sweltering July morning, he wasn’t far wrong. Everybody and I mean everybody wanted to be ringside for this—the event of the year.

Following their hugely successful Sea Odyssey show of 2012, Royal De Luxe were back in town with their latest spectacle Memories of August 1914—a piece of work which commemorates the outbreak of the First World War.

Goodness knows who would have been answering the 'phones this sultry, summer morn as the whole of Liverpool seemed to have converged on the city’s St George’s Hall to witness Grandmother, The Girl and Xolo the dog awaken from their slumbers. As the place where several thousand local men had enlisted to join the King’s Liverpool regiment 100 years ago, St George’s was not only a spectacular backdrop, but an apt one too.

The whole city appeared to have thrown a sickie to be there and best of all… nobody seemed to give a fig. It was carnival time. Bare arms, legs, heads and in some cases whole torsos exhibited worrying shades of pink from rose through to scarlet, but nobody seemed to care. Just wait until they hit the showers tomorrow morning…

And so it was time to wake. The Girl—faithful companion Xolo on her lap—slumbered peacefully and it seemed almost indecent to wake her, but wake her they did. Thankfully though there were no hysterical teenage tantrums or hangovers.

She woke slowly, serenely opening first one eye and then the other. She also blinked several times, taking in her surroundings with an enigmatic smile upon her face that suggested she was unable to comprehend what the fuss was all about. And as odd as it may sound, a hush descended upon the crowd as if in the presence of something other worldly, hallowed even.

Awestruck—there’s no other word to describe it—the crowd watched as Xolo lovingly licked his mistress’s face receiving a gentle stroke in return. It was all so seamless. It was also quite touching. The French theatre company had certainly concocted a script that wooed the crowd.

Meanwhile The Royal De Luxe puppeteers, aka the Lilliputians, were earning their crust and the live band were providing a pounding soundtrack. Having acclimatised herself, the Girl finally arose to her full 18ft height, the Lilliputians keeping her in motion by swinging from her bows like a posy of dandy pirates.

A little while later and attention had shifted to The Grandmother, an arthritic 85-year-old of Irish and Breton antecedents, who was basking in the benevolent weather. The grand old dame snored contentedly, slippers poking out from under a tatty tartan rug which, despite the soaring temperatures, was keeping the lady’s legs snug and warm. Once awake, you couldn’t help but feel this 25 foot matriarch was the type of lady who wouldn’t tolerate any messing.

With a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, the old lady made a short speech in a language that was as melodic as it was exotic. She spoke of the cosmos and of time’s mysteries. Her words charmed and mesmerised. She also appointed herself as the adopted Grandmother of Liverpool. The crowd lapped it all up. She had us all firmly in the palm of her very commodious hands.

If it is possible to hobble majestically, then this is exactly what this lady did as—walking stick in hand—she passed by city landmarks such as Lime Street Station and The Empire Theatre. The three stars of the show will eventually cover over thirty miles of the city this weekend before they sail off into the sunset on Sunday.

The French theatre company, formed in 1979, is often hailed as a modern wonder of the world. And rightly so, for there aren’t many entities that can leave Liverpool audiences dumbstruck. But that’s precisely what Royal De Luxe achieved on this magical morning.

Reviewer: David Sedgwick

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