There was a lot riding on the much-vaunted inclusion of the Giants as headliners for the 2015 Perth Festival. A total cost of $5.4 million ($2 million coughed up by the State Government), along with significant road closures throughout the CBD, hinted that urban theatre troupe Royale de Luxe might prove to be more of a nuisance than they were worth. However, the fanfare surrounding their arrival (and free entry) provided a guarantee: punters would turn up.

And turn up they did. Over three days an estimated 1.4 million people (counting repeat viewings) followed the oversized marionettes on their journey. The Little Girl woke on Friday, spent two days searching for the Diver, before they dramatically reunited in Langley Park on the Saturday night, and finishing with a celebratory send-off on Sunday. Royal de Luxe has performed to audiences worldwide, catering their programme specifically to the host city; and in all honesty, the narrative behind their performance was contrived to say the least. Ostensibly an amalgamation of appropriated traditional Noongar myths and the ANZAC legend, it felt a little forced, not to mention totally nonsensical. I had no idea what was going on.

Luckily, that didn’t really matter. Narrative and logic were pushed aside in favour of imagination and raw spectacle, fuelled by an engaged crowd pulsating through the CBD. It sounds cheesy, but Perth’s mood lifted and literally came to life. Hay St had never been so interesting! A madcap team of Lilliputians – who looked to be having the time of their lives – operated the Giants by pulling on levers and steampunk-style cranes, and followed by a mobile prog rock band, creating an engaging atmosphere.

And that’s what it’s all about, surely? Critics of the Giants pointed to its admittedly bloated cost and the inevitable strain on transport services, and the question remains: Was it worth it? Our city has a lot of unflattering adjectives hurled its way (many of them deserved) – lifeless, uninspired, crypto-fascist. If Perth is serious about shedding its Dullsville tag and competing with the likes of Melbourne and Sydney, greater public participation in the arts is essential. Whether it was ‘worth it’ misses the point. You can’t change a city’s character simply by throwing money at it (Elizabeth Quay, I’m looking at you); an interesting city requires interested people. In that respect, Perth’s reception of the Giants was a step forward, and the best advertisement for free arts events imaginable.
Review by Matthew Green