By Kenn Taylor
2012 marks one hundred years since the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage and Liverpool is commemorating its links to the famous ship, with the key event being a huge street procession called Sea Odyssey. From Friday 20 to Sunday 22 April, various city spaces will become focal points in a story about love, family and communication.
Sea Odyssey will be delivered by renowned French street theatre and marionette experts Royal De Luxe (RDL) who were responsible for the hugely popular ‘Sultan’s Elephant’ event in London in 2006. Sea Odyssey is one of the most complex events Liverpool has ever staged and will involve hundreds of people in its planning and execution, with the hope that around 250,000 people will attend over the course of the weekend.
Talks have been taking place between Liverpool City Council and RDL since 2006, when their Artistic Director Jean-Luc Courcoult visited Liverpool. He was inspired by a letter he saw in the Merseyside Maritime Museum written by a young girl called May to her father, William, a steward aboard Titanic. Her letter did not reach Southampton in time for Titanic’s departure, and tragically, her father was lost with the ship. This forms the basis of the Sea Odyssey story.
Much will be kept under wraps until the event, as Alicia Smith, Head of Participation and Engagement at Liverpool City Council explains. “We’ve already revealed that there will be two giants visiting Liverpool; the Little Girl Giant standing 30ft high and her Uncle at a whopping 50ft. There will definitely be a lot of surprises to come. It’s very much part of the Royal de Luxe mystique to keep parts of the action completely secret until the big day.”
Beyond the procession itself though, Liverpool City Council has done much work to develop the event on a wider level. In the lead up to Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year in 2008, there was much criticism of the remoteness of those organising cultural events in the city. This has prompted a new way of working that focuses on community involvement, as Smith explains. “The Wider Participation Programme focuses on providing opportunities for local organisations, businesses, community groups and education facilities to become involved with the event by taking ownership of and embracing what’s happening in their city. Partners have devised a series of ways to interlink their programming to create a cohesive approach.”
There has also been criticism in the past of the city centre or South Liverpool being the focus of much of the city’s cultural programme, so this event, though beginning in the town centre, will very much focus on North Liverpool, incorporating Stanley Park, Everton Park and Anfield.
“Liverpool has experienced an incredible resurgence in the last few years and culture has played a big part in this,” says Smith. “But North Liverpool in particular still faces some very real challenges. Sea Odyssey will be a crucial chance for the North of the city to kick-start a new phase of regeneration by showcasing investment opportunities, demonstrating the drive and ambition of the area and by empowering local communities to take a central role in future regeneration plans.”
Local business is also positive about the possibilities of the event. Gemma McGowan became the youngest licensee in the country in 1996 when she took over The Sandon pub – famous for being the place where both Liverpool and Everton Football Club’s were founded. In 2006 she also became the operator of Stanley Park’s newly restored Isla Gladstone Conservatory.
Gemma is organising one of the many fringe events connected to Sea Odyssey as she explains. “On Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd April, we will hopefully be welcoming a large number of people for the first ever Stanley Park Festival where we will bring the park to life will lots of activities including dancing for the school children, a Family Active Zone which will include free activities for the children. There will also be live music and a Community Zone for all local organisations to showcase what they have to offer to the residents of Liverpool.”
Gemma also hopes that Sea Odyssey could be a turning point for the area. “Opportunities like this don’t come along often. We will be attracting people from all over the country and I was determined to highlight just what an amazing place Stanley Park is. When this Sea Odyssey success has been recognised, we intend to organise several events over the calendar year which will bring the park to life.”
Ruth Little, Manager of Anfield Breckside Community Council, has been engaging with local people over the event. “There’s a programme to encourage local people to sign up as volunteers,” she says. “We’ve got people involved in the mechanics of the giants, activities in the park, stewards marshalling, to people making tea and coffee, so that everybody’s got a chance to get involved. It’s all coming out slowly, and everyone’s starting to get a bit of giant fever now!”
Ruth also thinks it’s a good opportunity to promote the area and generate civic pride. “Given that we’re top of the Indices of Deprivation, it gives us the opportunity to show that people here are very close-knit and very willing and very supportive of each other. And for local people as well, you know we’ve had lots of regeneration, and now we’re stuck with the failure of the HMRI, so it’s nice to have something joyful to look forward too, something nice in the area that involves the Anfield area.”
Overall, Alicia Smith has high hopes for the legacy of Sea Odyssey for North Liverpool. “Like the Capital Culture did for the city centre, major events can be
catalyst for change and if two giants can come to the north, anything can
Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular, 20 – 22nd April 2012, Liverpool
This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the 2nd April 2012 edition of The Big Issue in the North.