Sunday 25 February 2018

Boyle's punky production has really ripped up the rule book

Bernadette McNulty

Artistically, Olympic ceremonies are strange beasts. Taking years to produce, they are performed only once.

They must invent a script that translates the abstract gobbledegook of Olympic philosophies and the host nation's idealised image into a largely wordless dramatic narrative using music, dance, mime and circus skills combined with a firework display.

Ceremonies have evolved a universal aesthetic: neon colours; futuristic set designs; doves, flames and cute children. Their drama lies in their gloss and shine.

Danny Boyle, the director, might have kept the flames and there were plenty of showpiece bangs but in every other respect his opening ceremony ripped up the rule book.

This was about punk rather than pomp. His palette for The Isles of Wonder was mud hues and matts, a Lowry-ish smudge of grass greens, industrial greys and even black. In place of doves, there were cows and ducks. Instead of a glittering space age set, Boyle filled the stadium with earth and bricks.

His view of British history was stripped of royal pageantry. This was the story of migration and immigration, protest and rebellion. Compared with the banal platitudes of global togetherness that goes on at an Olympics ceremony, this seemed politically charged.

However, Boyle was not trying to make some agitprop point. The working class, Irish Catholic boy who came of age during the punk decade, has made a career out of depicting the travails of the working classes.

More than anything it was a love letter to British film, TV and music. With his musical partners Underworld it paid homage to hits of the past 50 years spliced with the energy of the rave culture. This brought the show to life.

I'm not sure it all worked. Without pushing those traditional ceremonial buttons so cravenly Boyle traded the punch of a Lady Gaga-style arena show for a more opaque experience.

The pacing wavered and I have no idea what the rest of the world will make of shire horses or men in top hats spouting Shakespeare.

Nonetheless, this opening ceremony was original, cool, intense and compelling. Boyle is a generous director unafraid of sentimentality or unabashed joy, and he filled this ceremony with heart and soul.

It was the hardest directorial job in the world but Boyle did us all proud. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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