AN hour spent in the company of Jean-Luc Courcoult, the creative genius behind Royal de Luxe, illustrates beautifully the wild imagination that inspires his giants – seen the world over by some 18 million people.
The enigmatic Frenchman is discussing his latest creation, the Grandmother Giant, a massive, otherworldly marionette, the centrepiece of the French company’s street theatre show, designed specifically for Limerick, the key event of City of Culture.
His 85-year-old creation will ‘come home’ to Limerick next week, one of just three places – as well as Nantes and Liverpool – where Royal de Luxe will perform this year.
The theme of the story is that the Grandmother has “fallen from the galaxy, into a field in Munster”, and, having been cared for in the countryside, has been sent by train to Limerick.
Speaking through a translator – UL student Jane O’Faherty – he outlines the sketches of the story that will be weaved though the three days of the performance, with the 30-foot Grandmother at its heart.
“As soon as she arrived at the railway station, she was greeted by thousands of people, who had come from all over Ireland,” explains Courcoult, who founded Royal de Luxe in 1979, and for over 20 years has brought his giants to cities around the world.
“As her language was even more incomprehensible than the most ancient form of Gaelic, a translator who had some knowledge of the language, was located.
“By chance, her personal safe, which had fallen from the sky onto a car in town, which contained the memories of Limerick, enabling her to tell the legends of stories of great battles, endured in past centuries, that had fallen into oblivion a long time ago.”
Royal de Luxe was considered the perfect fit as the key event for the year; the company performed in 2012 in Liverpool to 800,000 people, generating an estimated €35 million in associated revenue. Last month it returned to Liverpool and an estimated two million people turned out.
Crucially, part of the French company’s modus operandi is that it travels to the city chosen as a select venue and creates an original story woven from that place’s history, its people, sights and sounds, the result making for a personal, community event.
Notions of legends and of history, are key to Courcoult’s stories, helped by many trips to the city, meeting people and informing his vision.
“It is an idea that is not absolutely the story that might happen on the day,” he smiles.
“We can’t tell you everything in advance, because that would limit your imaginations. When I rehearse, it is like making a film, sometimes it might change on the day.
“I have studied a lot about Limerick’s history, because you can’t write a story without knowing the history. I felt I had to know a lot about the strength and the power of Irish people. I am very proud to be able to tell this story in Limerick.
“Ireland, it is a country that has always attracted me hugely, for historical reasons, and also reasons about its people.”
The result will be 72 hours of free family entertainment, which it is hoped will be seen by a crowd in excess of 200,000 people next weekend.
Courcoult, sipping a pint of Guinness, says that he “didn’t choose the character called the Grandmother by chance.
“In our world today, a world of globalisation, we can tend to forget older people. I don’t agree with the place of older people today. But she is not just any grandmother - she is a half Breton, half Irish grandmother, who drinks whiskey and Guinness.
“Her origins, have given her a tough, daring and mischievous character. A little bit mischievous, but overall she is full of tenderness.”
Asked about performing in Limerick, the smallest city the company has brought the huge production to, he says: “For me it is not a case of small towns and big cities. To do this show, there is no measure, whether it is a big or small town, it is always theatre.”
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