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From Antwerp to Nantes, these giant puppets are worth a trip to these European cities

Royal de Luxe's Bull Machin is coming to Nantes in September.
Royal de Luxe's Bull Machin is coming to Nantes in September. Copyright Royal de Luxe
Copyright Royal de Luxe
By Angela Symons
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'I felt transported back to childhood': Where to catch Royal de Luxe’s giant puppets this summer.

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Have you seen the giants roaming Europe’s streets?

This summer, French street theatre company Royal de Luxe will once again bring its mechanical marionettes to the masses.

The spectacle is moving in more ways than one. Touchingly lifelike and controlled by skilled puppeteers, the huge puppets are accompanied by emotive music that regularly brings crowds to tears.

From France to Belgium, here’s where you can catch ‘The Giants’ this summer.

What is Royal de Luxe?

Royal de Luxe is a French street theatre company that specialises in giant mechanical puppets.

Founded in 1979 in Aix-en-Provence, south of France, but now based in Nantes, the company began with unorthodox street theatre productions before launching a multi-day, city-wide puppet performance in 1993.

Throughout the years, its huge marionettes and troupe of skilled puppeteers have travelled throughout Europe and as far as Australia, Chile and Mexico.

Every performance is shaped by a fantastical backstory, from a giant who fell from the sky to a time-travelling elephant.

“Each production takes you to another world, through a new adventure around different cities,” says Jennifer Symons, a long-time fan and follower of The Giants.

“The attention to detail, from the way the puppets blink in such a human way, to the original soundtrack composed to set the tone of the scene, really makes the audience connect with the characters and feel part of the show.”

Throughout the years, the company’s ‘Saga of the Giants’ has seen a deep-sea diver emerge from the Port of Le Havre in France; a grandmother wander the cobblestones of Liverpool in commemoration of World War I; and Xolo the dog bounce down the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico to celebrate 100 years since the Mexican Revolution.

"Such a mesmerising event. Something I will never forget," says Helen Gaskell, who saw Xolo during his Liverpool visit. "I love his boundless energy and cheeky persona."

The marionettes are controlled by as many as 30 puppeteers dressed in red who use pulleys, strings and one another's body weight to breathe life into every feature.

Royal de Luxe’s 2018 show in Liverpool, UK, drew more than three million spectators.

"The whole city was swept up in the amazing spectacular, which built up each day as the story unfolded," says Christine Appleby, who attended the event for her 70th birthday.

"I felt transported back to childhood where your imagination became reality," adds Kay Symons, who attended the Liverpool event with her. "The puppets are so lifelike and you get really drawn into their story."

Antwerp: See Royal de Luxe’s giant puppets in Belgium

This August, Royal de Luxe is returning to Antwerp, Belgium, for the fifth time.

The animatronic puppets will form part of Zomer van Antwerpen (the Antwerp summer festival), which runs until 3 September. They will take to the streets on 25-27 August.

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Ever mysterious, the programme remains a secret, but it is expected to include the theatre company’s latest creation: the Bull Machin.

After retiring the Giants in 2018, the puppeteers returned in September 2022 with this new creation. Debuted in Villeurbanne, France, the giant bulldog features an eye patch and Winston Churchill-referencing cigar dangling out of its mouth.

Theatre lovers will find plenty more entertainment at the festival, from the Nofit State rock ‘n’ roll circus to Charon, an eerie nine-metre-tall kinetic sculpture made of skeletons.

Royal de Luxe
The Titanic Giant and the Diver, Nantes 2009.Royal de Luxe

Nantes and Saint-Herblain: See Royal de Luxe’s giant puppets in France

If you’re a dog person, head to Nantes and Saint-Herblain in western France on 22-24 September to see some larger-than-life four-legged friends.

The clumsy yet charming Bull Machin bulldog will be joined by a Royal de Luxe favourite, Xolo - a skinny black dog based on the Mexican hairless breed of the same name.

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In 2022, the two puppets raced one another through the streets of Villeurbanne in celebration of its appointment as the first French Capital of Culture.

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