There is no surer way to achieve happiness than to have low expectations. Thus did a warm glow and a tear spread across the sitting room as first the green tussock and then the strains of Jerusalem pierced our frenetic television screens on Satuarday evening. Could it be, could it possibly be that we were about to get what we do best, without apology or explanation?
Live theatre from Shakespeare’s time onwards has been our strength and great redeemer. What we are unable, as a reserved nation, to express to one another, we can express on a stage in front of thousands, and on Saturday night it just got better, because that vision was not restricted to the lucky few but was to be shared by all of us around the world.
“Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, That if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming, the clouds me thought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I wake I cried to dream again.”
Yes, yes, yes! I thought the man in the top hat was Charles Dickens, but if he was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, so be it. I can even ignore the fact that it was Kenneth Branagh was speaking the lines, the words are what matters. And then those unbelievable drummers! OK maybe a little too much of the flailing lady at the front, but hearts were beating in time to the industrial revolution as portrayed by a cast of 2,500 volunteers. And that’s another thing our nation does well and doesn’t make a fuss about. Doing things for the love of it. And there we were, watching as they did just that.
From that second, a despairing and cynical nation was suddenly behind the Olympic games. Or at least the part of the nation that inhabits my armchair. Suddenly I wanted to shout ‘thank-you’ and at the same time cry for our lost past, a past I never knew. What is this sense of loss?
No time to wonder for now the action cuts to Buckingham Palace, with the score indicating a change of mood. Of course, it’s a corgi moment. It cannot be more than that. Or can it? The anticipation thrilled and the moment when HRH turns round and says “Good Evening Mr Bond” produced screams of climactic delight. Whoever wrote that into the script, let alone trained Her Majesty to say it, was a bloody genius.
OK so it wasn’t actually the Queen in the helicopter – but we understand how it is. Yet when those Union Jack parachutes open to the James Bond theme tune, dung dung-a-lung dung, dung dung…..YES, YES, YES. But what is this? Her Majesty being introduced into the Olympic Stadium by a French Man speaking …. well, French. NO, NO, NO!
Oh well if we must. Time to put the kettle on. The next highlight, (besides the children bouncing on the beds, an opportunity they seemed to relish) was Simon Rattle being deliberately upstaged by Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, his Olympic Daydream played to the theme tune from Chariots of Fire with tongue-firmly-in-cheek. The self-deprecation chapter heralded the start of the portrayal of the digital age. At this stage in the show Danny Boyle should perhaps have nominated someone a bit younger to organise the show in the same way that the Olympic Heros nominated young bloods to light the flame. The attempt to showcase modern Britain did not quite do justice to the startling journey of the last half century. What about those clips from TV shows and the random medley of songs from the last 50 years projected on to an inlfated semi-detatched house? Hmm. What was that supposed to represent? The fact that in Modern Britain we never go out and spend most of our time stuck inside four walls watching the TV, or curled up with Harry Potter or some decent music to numb the pain? Hurray! Tell it like it is Danny Boy.
Thankfully, twenty minutes later we are back outside with the Olympic flame making its way round Britain, plenty of feelgood shots of torch bearers, London’s cityscape illuminated in blue and David Beckham in a Bond style motor boat roaring up the Thames with the torch. Sliding gracefully past the interminable but unavoidable Parade of Nations, insomnia meant I saw the end of the ceremony with the torch being handed from Beckham to Redgrave and then onto seven young Olympians, each nominated by an Olympic Hero. Their running was natural and their limbs loose. A reminder of what the Olympics is really about. And with that, a circle of burning copper petals was raised up to form a huge Olympic Flame bowl in the middle of the stadium. Stunning wizardry. If you haven’t the show already you must. Live theatre on a grand scale doesn’t get any better.