Danny Boyle’s gold medal
There will come a time when the details are lost in the mist. After all, can anyone remember what the Chinese lads and lasses produced for the opening ceremony four years ago, beyond the broad brushstrokes? The thunder and lightning …
There will come a time when the details are lost in the mist. After all, can anyone remember what the Chinese lads and lasses produced for the opening ceremony four years ago, beyond the broad brushstrokes? The thunder and lightning which accompanies the opening ceremony is quickly forgotten once the real games begin. Right now, though, Danny Boyle’s production to open the London Olympics is still vivid and clear in our minds because it occured so recently and also because it was such an over-the-top extravaganza of imagination, cheek, pluck and ideologies. Watching the Boyle ensemble’s tribute to the British National Health Service, one wondered if Gay Mitchell’s far-fetched idea for Dublin to host the Olympics had come to pass, would we have seen a similar tribute in our opening ceremony to the HSE?
Would we heck. The reason why Friday’s show was such a spectacular one-off was down to the original choice of Boyle as director and that decision to go beyond the usual suspects dictated that Friday’s event was always going to be interesting to observe. When you go with someone who is not one of the circle and give them the nod to do whatever they want, you end up with an event which bucks every trend. This applies even to the musicians who found themselves front and centrestage on Friday. Sure, you had Paul McCartney doing “Hey Jude”, but you also had Dizzee Rascal, Arctic Monkeys and Frank Turner very much in the mix. Boyle’s ceremony was about going beyond what everyone expected – no place in the mix for those jaded aul’ relics like Elton John, for instance – and freshening everything up. As a result, we got a production which was colourful, imaginative, thought-provoking, occasionally barmy but always gripping and entertaining.
There has already been plenty to take from the event. You have, predictably, politicians of a certain stripe up in arms about what they see as Boyle’s left-wing agenda with the show (in fairness, you’d have had politicians of another stipe up in arms if another director had gone another way). There’s been a huge amount written about how many volunteers took part and, much more importantly in an age of social media and leaks, kept schtum about what was involved. There is also, predictably, a lot of questions about what was left out – where were Britain’s colonial machinations in this Isle of Wonder? How would many of the millions who tuned in, people who may well have no contact with or understanding of British culture, relate to this? Does Dizzee Rascal really matter more than Sting?
Other issues would inevitably have popped up no matter who was pulling the strings and directing battalions of umbrella-wielding nannies, parachuting monarchs and huge gold rings across the east London nightsky. You can’t please all the people all the time. Sure, there was much which was overlooked – I think one of the few references to Britain’s colonial plundering was the sight of some Windrush immigrants wandering around with cardboard suitcases – but there was also much which was celebrated which you didn’t expect to see.
The presence of Tim Berners-Lee, for instance, and the pop culture song-and-dance which followed showed the importance of what was happening now and what will happen in the future. It’s all well and good to concentrate on the history of what was, but Boyle’s insistence on giving equal heft to the here and now is something to be applauded. Likewise, the decision to have seven young British athletes to light the cauldron was a smart stroke. It’s sometimes better to focus on what’s to come rather than celebrate some fading past glory.
Now, though, the real games have begun and the stadium becomes an isle of wonder for the athletes, many of whom were as giddy as goats on Friday night. All the pomp and palaver of the £27 million opening gala is over and it’s their turn to shine. We may never see hundreds of kids whizzing around the stadium in hospital beds ahain, but we can hopefully expect awe and wonder of another kind in the days and nights ahead.