Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Saving The Surprise


So, I’m going to review the Olympic Opening Ceremony.  We were lucky enough to get tickets to the technical rehearsal last night, and so we got to see the show from the opening through to the point where the athletes will walk in on Friday night.

The big theme of the night was #savethesurprise – we were all asked to not give away the surprises of the evening, so that it would still be a spectacular for everyone watching on Friday night.  This isn’t a case of The Olympic Brand ™ being protected, this is simply a case of not wanting to spoil the surprise of what is actually a specatular show.

So, how can I review the show without giving away the surprise.  I’ll give it a go…

So, we’ve all seen the publicity photos of the village green with people playing cricket.  That bit isn’t secret.  But then, loads of people come on and start ****** the ***** so that it changes into an ********** ***** with a big ***** which ***** out ***** with fireworks and turns into an ******* **** which has loads of ********* coming from it.

Oh, that’s not working brilliantly, is it?  Maybe I’ll take a different approach.

Basically, it’s a bit show with lots of spectacle, an awful lot of people and – most importantly – a sense of humour.  The thing is, the UK isn’t a country like China with a point to prove on the world stage with what they put together in Beijing four years ago.  Everyone knows where the UK is, and what’s in London so we can take a more abstract approach.  Of course, there are the “Wow!” moments in the ceremony, and I just hope that the TV coverage manages to capture them.  But I’m sure that’s been part of the planning.

The Olympic Park itself reminds me of EuroDisney.  I mean that in a kind way.  It’s all clean and now, and full of open spaces with huge numbers of litter bits and picnic benches and people milling around.  Given the stadium was full, it didn’t feel stupidly busy.  Queues for food and drink were long, but prices weren’t as stupidly expensive as I expected.  Expensive yes – but the prices didn’t feel exploitative.

The only gate open last night was that from Westfield into the park.  The queues looked huge, and when we joined the queue there was a feeling of dread that we’d be standing around for hours.  I can honestly say it was half an hour from joining the queue to being in the park.  The queuing system was efficient and no major worries.  It helped that the stewards were friendly and chatty; standing in a queue always feels worse when the officials are grumpy and disinterested.  The security lanes themselves were manned by the army who managed to be both friendly, welcoming and efficient.  I can honestly say it was the most efficient operation of airport style security I have ever seen .   I guess it’s helped by the fact that even the most pushy visitor is unlikely to argue with a soldier in uniform who looks much tougher than you, but full credit to the soldiers for doing a great job.

Once in the park, the only thing I would gripe about would be the lack of signage.  Toilets on the way out were quite hard to find, and finding the Greenway Gate to leave was a bit of a guessing game. But still time to iron that out before Friday.

So, the ceremony itself was almost all of the production from the start through to the point where the athletes would parade into the stadium.  Some things were kept secret with blacked out videos screens displaying a message saying “Video will be shown here on Friday”.  A couple of times the video flicked to the actual footage before blacking out, so we got a few tantalising glimpses of what’s to come.  The announcements were in place for some of the people involved in the ceremony who weren’t there, and the music gave a few clues to what was missing at various points.  It’s going to be amazing on Friday when all the missing pieces are slotted back into place.

So, how does the ceremony stack up against Beijing?  Beijing was amazing.  A huge spectacle of 14,000 people.  London isn’t far off in terms of numbers, and is way ahead in terms of sense of humour.  Some of the musical choices are not the obvious and there’s no shortage of poking a bit of fun at the establishment.  This is a show put together with tongue in cheek and a smile on the face.   Technically, it’s astounding.  There are more lights than I’ve ever seen in one place, and the press reports weren’t lying about the enormous sound system.

Logistically, the stadium shows the effects of modern venue design.  The exodus at the end was painless and efficient - except for the trouble of finding the right gate to get out.  The toilets plentiful and convenient (no pun intended).

So, Friday is the big day.  The day when the asterisks above will make sense and you’ll see the part I was talking about (which is my favourite).  Of course there’ll be people who sneer in the oh-so-British way that it’s not as good as Beijing, but taken objectively, it’s a huge show with some real standout moments which will make everyone in the stadium draw breath, and probably most watching on TV, too.

There are fireworks, there are lasers, there are dancers and there are set pieces on a huge scale.  It’s gonna be a good one!

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