At a final dress rehearsal on Wednesday night for London’s opening ceremony – the vision of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle – some 50,000 ticket holders, which included myself in the nose-bleed seats, were presented with a uniquely British affair.
Without wishing to divulge the plot more than has already been revealed publicly, the spectacle traces the Britain’s history through a pastiche of dance, song, film, literature and audience interaction.
Indeed, visitors to the stadium are greeted by a small army of helpers known as “Mechanicals” – a reference to the characters who perform the play-within-a-play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Clad in white overalls and flat caps, these mechanicals could be mistaken for a cross between the Super Mario Brothers and a plumber on the BBC’s Rogue Traders programme, but play their part with a smile.
Among their jobs is to encourage and facilitate crowd participation, such as waving light sticks, grappling with sheets of material, punching plastic balls and headbanging to rock music.
Such is the breadth of Boyle’s creation that some of the other publicly known details of the show – such as the participation of horses, sheep, geese and cricketers – do not seem out of place. I did wonder if there were parts of the display that were almost too British, and could confuse some viewers struggling to comprehend some of the references to London culture, speech and television.
But outside the stadium, the first thing that became apparent was the friendliness of the volunteer helpers – many cracking jokes to the massing crowds through megaphones or pointing out directions with giant foam fingers. “Are you having fun? Give us a smile!” were among the quips from the volunteers, who worked overtime to gee up the masses.
The other pleasant surprise came from the Air Force personnel present, who worked the metal detectors – admirably filling in for the recent incompetence displayed by outsourcing group G4S.
Their cheerfulness made a splendid change from the dour faces and grumpy demeanour regularly on show at the UK’s airport scanners. As such, all the gloomy sentiment that has been exuded of late by a raft of Olympics curmudgeons is sure to evaporate as fast as London’s sunny weather, which is expected to break just in time for Friday’s opening.
But – surely – not even a downpour can take the gloss off the spectacle of the opening ceremony. We’ll see on Friday night.