Boyle’s inventive ceremony grabs the licence … and thrills

63 Views Comment Off
The spectacular Opening Ceremony

The spectacular Opening Ceremony

James Bond parachuting into the Olympic stadium with… the Queen? Not Judi Dench. Not even Helen Mirren. The real Queen. “Good evening, Mr Bond,” she said, rising from her Buckingham Palace desk to greet a dinner-jacketed Daniel Craig and play her part in a little film that formed one of the highlights of Danny Boyle’s tumultuously inventive opening ceremony to the 2012 Games. Now, thanks to Boyle, we really have seen everything.

Muhammad Ali, probably the most famous Olympic champion of all, was among the flag-bearers. Sir Paul McCartney sang us home. The secret of the cauldron was kept right to the end: it was lit by seven young athletes nominated by Britain’s greatest Olympians. Frankly the big surprise had come several hours earlier.

As the Bond theme twanged out and the stadium’s bowl flickered with the Carnaby Street colours of the union flag, Her Majesty was preparing to make her entrance for one of the few moments of the programme during which the evening represented a conventional preface to an Olympic Games.

But once she and the Duke of Edinburgh had taken their places with appropriate decorum alongside Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and Sebastian Coe, the principal begetter of London 2012, the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire was back in charge of his deliriously enjoyable, occasionally bemusing, supremely humanistic creation, in which no button remained unpushed, virtually no cultural memory unjogged.

The national anthem – just the first and third verses, missing out the bit about “Confound their politics / Frustrate their knavish tricks” – was sung acapella by the Kaos choir of deaf and signing children, in their pyjamas. Then came the entrance of more than 300 hospital beds, accompanied by 600 members of the staff of the National Health Service, who danced their way through a routine that paid tribute to the Great Ormond Street hospital for sick children through the medium of a tribute to Britain’s genius for producing children’s literature. J K Rowling, perhaps the greatest living Englishwoman, read the opening lines of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan while giant puppets loomed over the young patients, reminding us of the scary joys of Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil, the Childcatcher and Rowling’s own Voldemort. Cameron and his gang will surely not dare to continue the dismemberment of the NHS after this.

And the evening had started so quietly. The prologue, which began an hour before the show itself, was a tableau vivant of rural English life in the 18th century: a prelapsarian age of cows, goats, geese, sheep, a shire horse, a bank of wild flowers, a mill race, a Cotswold stone cottage with smoking chimneys, a wheatfield stippled with poppies, a wooden barn, a trio of maypoles, a kitchen garden, rustic games of cricket and football, a cluster of bee hives, picnics, a sturdy oak tree, fluffy white clouds tethered to squads of minders and slowly circling the arena.

When the RAF’s Red Arrows suddenly screamed over the stadium, laying a streamer of red, white and blue smoke above this bucolic idyll before wheeling away over the City and the West End, they were giving a hint of jolting juxtapositions and artful dissonances to come. They also brought with them a brief shower of genuine rain: not the artificial variety that Boyle had up his sleeve for use later on, but a humid day activating its relief valve at the end of a hot spell.

And then all was surrounded by a glittering blue sea as the audience was brought into the action, holding up sheets of material, accompanied by the strains of Elgar’s Nimrod, performed on the greensward by a contingent from the London Symphony Orchestra. All this, and still the television audience had not joined in.

The animals had been safely shepherded away by the time the real business began on the million-watt PA system. Bradley Wiggins, proudly clad in his new yellow jersey, rang the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world, a 23-tonner cast by the Whitechapel Bell Co (est. 1570), to give the starting signal. Jerusalem was soon ringing out, inevitably, but also Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and Cym Rhondda. But then Sir Kenneth Branagh appeared, deputising for Mark Rylance in the guise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, intoning the lines from The Tempest that had given Boyle his inspiration and text: “Be not afear’d / The isle is full of noises…”

Indeed it was as Evelyn Glennie, doing her Keith Moon thing, led a contingent of drummers in shattering the rural calm.

Out of the stadium’s sluices flowed hordes of the new classes created by the industrial revolution: workers in overalls, bosses in top hats, arriving to dismantle the rural scene piece by piece, the meadows and the tilled fields making way for an array of vast chimneys emerging from the once fertile earth to reach the height of the stadium rim, their infernal belching smoke replacing the homely cottage hearth and ushering in a world of steam engines and spinning jennys.

In their wake came Boyle’s gigantic parade of the British at their most motley: trades union marchers, Pearly kings and queens, Chelsea pensioners and a squadron of Sgt Peppers and inflatable yellow submarines, the whole arena now a pulsing organism of light and noise as the five giant Olympic rings appeared in mid-air, newly forged, still sparking and glowing from the furnace.

For a week – seven days at the end of seven years – London had been building up to this.

Pyrotechnicians turned the riverside precinct of the National Theatre into a spectacular garden of fire. Gaggles of cyclists in national colours whirred through the lanes of Surrey, checking out the route of their races.

And the Olympic torch completed its remarkable journey, the penultimate stage undertaken from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge on the prow of the gilded Gloriana, at the head of a flotilla of rowboats that drew curious glances from the cormorants, herons and great crested grebes in their haunts by Richmond Bridge.

Boyle did not disappoint. Invited to follow Sydney’s stockmen and suburban lawn mowers, Athens’s topless Minoan princess and Beijing’s intimidating display of power and precision, he confronted the challenge head-on, embracing the obvious without neglecting subtlety, making good use of the range of English humour, from self-deprecation to outright daftness.

Turn followed turn. Rowan Atkinson made a sublimely funny appearance, seated at an electronic keyboard in the midst of the LSO, playing the one-finger ostinato to the theme from Chariots of Fire under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle while surreptitiously texting and daydreaming, convulsing the 72,000 crowd. On the giant screens David Beckham roared into view at the wheel of a speedboat, out-Bonding Bond as he carried the torch up the glittering Thames on its final journey from Tower Bridge to the Olympic Park.

In the sequence that may have caused most puzzlement among non-Britons, Boyle examined the rise of social media through a miniature soap opera, complete with a guest appearance from Sir Tim Berners-Lee and a collaged soundtrack racing from My Generation and My Boy Lollipop through Tiger Feet and Pretty Vacant to Dizzee Rascal live in the stadium.

Mortality was not ignored: an earlier moment of stillness in memory of the unspecified fallen was echoed as Emeli Sandé sang Abide With Me while dancers performed a fluid piece by the choreographer Akram Khan.

When the pageant paused for the arrival of the athletes, hidden lighting devices turned the spectator areas a uniform shade of blue, so that all the attention was on the kaleidoscope of the 204 competing teams. They were urged to move faster than usual around the perimeter track, urged on by a soundtrack including Stayin’ Alive, West End Girls and Heroes.

Usain Bolt and Sir Chris Hoy carried the flags of Jamaica and Britain, neither of them known for hanging around, but it still seemed to go on for ever.  It took £27m and 7,500 volunteers to make last night’s pageant, but one man to envisage the possibilities and transform them into reality.

For four years, following Beijing was thought to be the most thankless task in show business. Danny Boyle made it happen. He made the stadium seem bigger than it is, as big as the world. He gave a party, full of jokes and warmth and noise and drama, and he got the Olympics started.

Chief Editor
Author: Chief Editor

Nigerian Community,News, Events and more

About the author

Nigerian Community,News, Events and more

Related Articles