'Save the surprise' was the watchword and when Danny Boyle requested it once again, the stadium roared its support. This was the second and last full dress rehearsal and so far the promise has been largely kept. It shows a generosity of spirit, not altogether matched in the press.
I caught a snippet in the Radio Times, which pointed out that the LA Olympics in 1994 started with a spaceman and a jetpack: Seoul in 1988 began with a giant river barge ten miles from the stadium, Sidney 2000 had a formation horse troupe...and ‘Tonight, artistic director Danny Boyle has promised us sheep.’
The media has both hands behind its back carrying, respectively bouquets and knives freshly sharpened. The key word is ‘quirky’. The media has decided Danny Boyle is quirky, a nice slippery word that will later explain either failure or success.
We were there at the dress rehearsal and without giving the game away, yes, there are sheep. And they are more exciting than the ‘clouds’. And if that was all, Danny Boyle would be less quirky than actively deranged.
What we saw was a triumph in the act of trying to please as many people as possible. The fact that there were a few aspects of the ‘whole’ that left me cold bears out that fact. Dear God in Heaven, an Opening Ceremony that talked exclusively to me would leave the greater part of the nation untouched. The overall impression I had was a powerful balance between the traditional and subversive, populist and punk, and the darker, mischievous spirit of the surreal and British bloody-mindedness. Beijing spent £64m on their Opening Ceremony and it had something to prove. Boyle worked on a budget of £27m and a generous and dedicated cast. (And my daughter who is carrying Qatar's standard as they enter the stadium)
Perhaps the finest contrast between good cheer and optimism as opposed to a more sour spirit is to be seen in London’s mayor, Boris Johnson. The contrasting tone is to be found in a rather snide and sour piece in the New York Times with phrases like ‘Reports this week from London speak of tension on the set; if tempers are running high, it’s probably because so much is at stake. Critics are questioning the expense of the games, with words like “fiasco,” “disaster” and “complete nightmare.” I think, like Mitt Romney, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky will eat his words. Except that academics rarely do.
Well we can at least hope we don’t repeat the mistake of the Seoul Olympics when hundreds of doves were released, many of whom landed on the rim of the Olympic cauldron and were promptly incinerated.