Wednesday 21 March 2018

Opening Olympic Games ceremony 'out of this world', so cancel your plans for Friday night

Crowds arrive for an opening ceremony rehearsal at the Olympic Park in London this week
Crowds arrive for an opening ceremony rehearsal at the Olympic Park in London this week

Paul Kelso

LATE on Monday night, a cool breeze of Olympic enthusiasm blew through a stifling train. A gaggle of passengers climbed aboard, their excitement irrepressible as they travelled home from a rehearsal of the opening ceremony that on Friday night will break the ice on London’s Olympic party.

If ceremony director Danny Boyle had handed our laughing gas and tax rebates at the penultimate run-through in Stratford he could not have got warmer reviews. Strangers when they got on the train, the spectators grinned and babbled wide-eyed to each other about what they had seen.

“It was jaw dropping”, “Amazing, I didn’t know where to look”, “It makes you really want to get behind them”.

A pact among those present prevented them sharing details. Boyle asked people to keep the secret before the show, and the hashtag #savethesurprise was displayed on the screens in the stadium. In the main, the covenant has held.

Searching out the hash-tag on Twitter revealed a community of enthusiasts sending virtual nods and winks like parents before the best Christmas presents are opened.

“Splendidly British and magnificently bonkers,” said one. “If you’ve got plans Friday night, cancel them. Opening ceremony is out of this world,” said another.

The reaction, as well as the conspiracy of goodwill to keep elements fresh for the worldwide TV audience expected on Friday, is good news for London. Producing the ceremony has been fraught with problems for Boyle and his team, but the vision they have dreamt up, which gets its final rehearsal tonight, appears to pass the first test: the public like it.

Whether the politicians do is another matter. Boyle’s work, and that of ceremonies director Stephen Daldry, has always carried a strong political message amid the feel-good elements. Both are strong Labour supporters, and there is growing expectation that their themes will not be welcomed by the Coalition, particularly its Conservative majority.

One senior figure who has seen the show is predicting “a political row”, and former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband seemed to be anticipating something similar. He tweeted after the show “Danny Boyle is a genius, with a wicked sense of humour!”

Boyle has always promised a singularly British show, and reaction from those present on Monday confirms it. We know it starts in a “green and pleasant land”, passes through the industrial revolution and a celebration of the right to protest, and the public service of NHS nurses, a theme thought to have caused nervousness in Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s office.

It is also understood to feature another key element of British life, the big Saturday night out. A key device of the ceremony tells the story of two girls defying their parents to head out on the town, aided and abetted in meeting their friends by social media. Their journey takes them through nightclubs playing music from the great decades of British popular music, from the 60s to the Noughties.

The sequence nods both to our musical heritage, as well as Britain’s central role in the invention of the internet, with Tim Berners-Lee thought to feature.

Most of all, judging by the reviews, Boyle has injected the hardest element of all, humour, into the show. Many who’ve seen it talk of laughs and a madcap element.

The ceremony has also made use of significant advances in digital media, and these are expected to provide the most spectacular moments.

These are said to have worked well in rehearsals, though there have been glitches with some of the mechanical staging. This is clearly no political tract, nor a po-faced historical tract.

Rather it is a spectacular, warm and, in places, emotional celebration of Britain. Whether it translates to the global television audience remains to be seen, but that could be less important than lighting the fire of the domestic audience.

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