Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Wot, no Mrs Tiggywinkle?

Well, hats off to Danny Boyle - sort of.

It was undoubtedly spectacular, it certainly entertained, there were flashes of awe-inspiring brilliance, and yet...and yet...

The green and pleasant land, for example, was very picturesque, along with the carefully choreographed hordes of lusty swains and buxom wenches - Thomas Hardy meets Busby Berkeley - but was I the only one wondering why they sang Jerusalem just before building the dark satanic mills?

Meanwhile, there was more brain-ache induced by Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, complete with cigar (bet that upset the Righteous!) but reciting Shakespeare - a sort of 'My Little Pony' portmanteau of 'British things we like all combined into one incongruous package'.

No sooner had we negotiated this intellectual contortion than we had to deal with an army of top-hatted, bewhiskered 19th-century industrialists engaged in what appeared to be, according to one inspired tweet, 'interpretive dance on the importance of lawncare' while remaining entirely po-faced and purposeful.

After that, the dancing doctors and nurses - the genuine article, we were assured, fresh from 150 hours of rehearsal (which might explain a lot about recent waiting lists) - fending off massive puppets ('Finally!' the French contingent must have sighed with relief, 'Now that's how you do a ceremony!') were relatively straightforward, though the massed ranks of Mary Poppinses descending from the skies probably said more about the deepest recesses of Boyle's psyche than he would like us to know.

These things always become  more cringeworthy as we approach the present day - teenagers phoning and texting is not what I'd call a spectator sport - but at least we had the benefit of some excellent music for Boyle's name-that-tune/film competition, though the brain-ache was back with the inappropriately apocalyptic lyrics for London Calling (the choice of which has puzzled me since it was used for the Olympic bid all those years ago).

All in all, it was an impressive piece of work - I certainly have great admiration for whoever choreographed and rehearsed the performers - and did the job it was supposed to do. True, there were grating factors, like the choice of a pop vocalist to sing 'Abide With me' complete with the genre's nasal delivery and flattened blue notes or the somewhat baffling prominence given to the NHS.

And, if Boyle meant what he said about evoking what Britain means to outside visitors, why Harry Potter rather than Beatrix? You only have to see the Far-Eastern hordes seething through the Lake District to realise that she is a major influence - so much so that the appearance of a real live rabbit by the side of the road is greeted with something akin to Beatlemania.

With the IOC in the best seats, I can see why he might not have wanted to bring in Tolkien's sinister Rings, however appropriate, to the forging scene (which was very well-contrived), but the bucolic scene at the beginning would surely have been greatly improved with the addition of some of Beatrix Potter's creations - ideally in the guise of characters from Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet - to satisfy their devotees around the world.

Still, it did what it was supposed to do and wasn't too much of an embarrassment - in fact some of it was very entertaining and mocking the rest even more so. I feel I got at least some of my money's worth (an estimated 50p, if rumours of something over £27 million are true - though I should like to have been asked first) before I went off to bed somewhere around the letter G (I wanted to enjoy the full awfulness of the Spanish kit but just couldn't face the wait).

And we've paid for it all now so, for the sake of what remains of our national pride,  let's hope the rest of the glorified sports day goes as well.

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