Monday 30 July 2012

The isle is full of noises

London Olympics. Voldemort versus Mary Poppins
I’ll admit to wincing when I heard there would be an NHS section, it sounded a little too ‘eastern bloc’ for my taste - workers of the state perform for your entertainment - yet what we got was fun, not light hearted fun - that came later with Mr Bean’s Chariots of Fire - but creepy fun, the much reviled American NBC commentary were right about that, it was kind of creepy and all the better for it. My biggest concern was a rehash of the tried and tested, some bland brightly coloured offering understood by all and with value to none. Instead nurses jived around beds before settling their charges down for the night; J.K. Rowling began with a reading from Peter Pan, from which sprouted imagined terrors, ghouls from every corner, the child catcher, the Queen of Hearts, Voldemort towering over all. Who would save the children? Why a band of Mary Poppins, of course.

Even the lesser segment - into the digital age - effectively a performance to a rock-through-the-ages concert, avoided the temptation to delve into the merely popular but kept faith with those providing an alternative, an independence, or who, if I may indulge in cliché, have stood the test of time. I don’t like rap but for a few short minutes I was a Dizzee Rascal fan. And there were so many other great touches; the Queen and James Bond featured together, illuminated doves cycled around the stadium to the Arctic Monkeys singing The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, and at the end of it all the lighting of the torch, itself a wondrous architectural achievement.

London Olympics industrial revolution
All of this, all of it, was set up by an extraordinary opening 30 minutes. First the orchestra playing Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, then the countdown until we were ‘live to the world’, starting with a terrific recorded opening sequence taking us from the source of the River Thames into the Olympic stadium, live. Songs followed representing the constituent parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - my daughter joined in for Flower of Scotland - topped and tailed with Jerusalem; Nimrod then Jerusalem, two of my favourites, how did they know? This was a precursor to an economic history of our country, the history I was taught at school; the tearing up of land that forged the industrial revolution which in turn would lead to Victorian riches and place us at the centre of the world. From Kenneth Branagh’s inspiring lines from The Tempest, his Brunel strode the stage as six stacks sprung from the ground to power a new forge; ‘molten iron’ blazed a path to a ring, tempered then lifted glowing into the sky to converge with four others.

A shame that some were unable to watch this without political context, and thus judged based on whether this self-constructed context matched their own; how narrow a life they must lead. Personally it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was entertainment, it was history lesson. It was magnificent spectacle without losing its humanity. It was, as another of J.K. Rowling’s creations might say, bloody brilliant.


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