Simply, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Pure theatre, pure confection, but a story told with a scale, wit and execution that was dazzling and funny and left me wanting to sum it up in words so I don’t forget what it made me feel.
I believe that Danny Boyle’s bold, brilliant story arc was so great that it will inform the way we tell London’s story for years to come, and thus will end up no less than shaping and defining us.
It started with England’s “green and pleasant land” and led by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, we tore it up to create the crucible of our new Jerusalem – sacrificing beauty for industry; tranquility for cacophony. I didn’t see where it was going for a bit, but as the steel rings rose, I realised artistic director, Danny Boyle, in forging a modern Britain from our 19th century steel, smoke and fire, had literally linked our story to the values of the Olympics. Our story had become the Olympic spirit.
One of Danny Boyle’s greatest pieces of prestidigitation was telling London’s story and making our city short-hand for our country. In doing so, It was probably the first narrative of Britain that I’ve really identified with.
We’re where Mr Blue Sky meets children’s stories with the scariest baddies. A place of cultural diversity and oddball eccentricity. Where great music that’s always new, meets bizarre traditions that we just can’t shake. The Specials, Anna Friel’s lesbian kiss on Brookside, the industrial-scale compassion of the NHS, Mr Bean, the comfortable love of a mixed race family, the glamour of Beckham in a speedboat, Dizzie Rascal and the magic of a UK music festival, the shipping forecast, Akram Khan’s dance and choreography, the Arctic Monkeys, there were so many images that resonated with me, but the turning point was the queen.
I’m not a royalist, I’m a republican, but when Daniel Craig as James Bond walked into Buckingham Palace, and the real queen, not a double or Judi Dench, looked back and joined in, that I knew the night was going to be very, very special. If Danny Boyle could get her to play along (I pictured the meeting as he explained his vision to her), I knew we were in secure, creative hands. He’d take us anywhere, but he knew where he was going and we’d be safe.
And just as I missed the Olympic rings at first, I didn’t see where he was going with the torch either. When Steve Redgrave lit the torches of the 7 young athletes, I wondered who they’d be passing the flame to. But that was the point. They were the culmination of torch’s 8,000 mile journey. They were Britain’s future hopes, touched by greatness and hugged by the great, lighting the cauldron themselves, which in Heatherwick’s inspired design, where the flames of every nation came together as one, also resonated with Boyle’s individual to collective, chaotic to coherent motif. These young athletes were passing London’s flame of ambition, potential and greatness to the next generation.
It was a masterstroke, that in retrospect, was the only conclusion the story could have had.
The thing is, I’ve been to the real Jerusalem. It’s noisy, chaotic, depressing and beautiful. Where looking down on the 4 millennia old holy site of Har haBáyith / Haram Ash-Sharif you can see the rooftops spiked with aeriels and satellite dishes and hear the muezzin remixed in the key of Ahavah Rabbah to the chirp of a mobile phone.
In Danny Boyle’s vision, the Jerusalem we’ve built in London, England is messy, dirty, contradictory, inclusive, magical, musical, nonsensical, diverse, tolerant, sometimes frightening, but inspiring, brave and creative. For better or worse, it’s what the modern world looks like. And it can be a wonderful place.
Olympometer rating: 5 out of 5