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London Olympics set to open with ‘magnificently bonkers’ ceremony

Michael Burn of Watford England smiles outside the Olympic Park at the Westfield mall ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London.

Associated Press

If the Twitter reviews from the spectators who have seen the dress rehearsals are anything to go by, artistic director Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony is destined to be an entertainment and cultural knock-out, a great show to launch the greatest sporting show on earth.

The thousands of spectators have seen the £27-million pound ($43-million) extravaganza have been sworn to secrecy, and, amazingly, only a few tantalizing details have emerged about the scenes and format. What we do know is that the 140-character reviews, found under the Twitter hashtag "savethesurprise," were overwhelmingly positive, even gushing.

Twitter user Jill Lawless (who describes herself as "Secretly Canadian) called Boyle's creation "splendidly British and magnificently bonkers."

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Another Twitter user, Andy Crisp, said "If anyone on Twitter moans about the opening ceremony on Friday then you literally have no soul." Still another summed up the performance's finale as "mind blowing."

With a cast of 10,000, the ceremony is to begin at 9 p.m. London time (4 p.m. ET) at the Olympic stadium, stuffed with 62,000 spectators. Barring technical snafus, the show, which will be seen by an estimated 1-billion-plus people worldwide, will finish between midnight and 12:30 a.m. with a performance by former Beatle Paul McCartney (rehearsals have been running as much as half an hour late, according to some reports).

The contents of the performance, known as "Isles of Wonder," remain largely unknown. We do know it will feature farm animals, as a nod to Britain's pastoral heritage, and 30 or so Mary Poppins descending from the sky, umbrellas in hand, to banish the evil Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. A short video clip released by Boyle shows dancers in a fantastic array of colourful costumes, cyclists with flapping wings pinned to their backs and National Health Service nurses dancing while patients bounce up and down on enormous trampoline beds.

The music will be popular, loud and very British. The BBC called the performance a "stunning mash-up of live performance, film and gig."

While Boyle, 55, has been called a creative genius, he certainly was not the safest choice – politically and culturally speaking – to stage a performance that will project Britain's image to the planet. The Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Shallow Grave is known for his gritty and wryly humorous views of real-life Britain.

Trainspotting is about the crazed life of Edinburgh heroin junkies and features a dead baby. Zombies clutter the streets in 28 Days Later, a film about the breakdown of society after the release of a "rage" virus. These are not feel-good movies with happy, uplifting American-style endings. While Boyle is not a cynically outrageous as Quentin Tarantino, he can, on occasion, come close.

But to the credit of the Games' organizers, safe is obviously not what they wanted in the opening ceremony. By all accounts, the performance will be a celebration of all aspects of British life, not just the post-card version.

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It could be political, given Boyle's pro-Labour leanings (hence the scene with the National Health Service nurses). One government PR official, who did not want to be identified by name, told The Globe and Mail that "Boyle's show may not be all that pleasing to the Conservatives."

Whatever his view's, Boyle's creation is highly unlikely to carry a blatant political message. If the show is too political, it simply won't translate well to the vast overseas audience.

"It has been a long road and we're almost there," Boyle told reporters in a briefing Friday morning. "What you think about really is you think about the volunteers...This is a live preformance and it's the actors, and in our case they are volunteers, who have to get up there and do it. "

Boyle is primarily a popular film director who wants to please an audience and will do so with his signature mix of fast cuts, loud music and colours, dizzying motion and story telling with an edge. It is bound to be a dazzling performance. Boyle will just have to pray that it will go like clockwork, that the farm animals do not freak out on stage and, above all, that it does not rain, even though rain would be a typically British addition to his all-British show.

TEN TIDBITS ABOUT THE OPENING CERMONIES

1) Tickets were still available as of Thursday, if you want to pay as much as £2,012 for a seat. Cheapskates can opt for the £1,600 seats.

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2) The first spectators will be allowed into the Olympic arena at 5 p.m. – four hours before Boyle's show starts.

3) The Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square will hit zero at 9 p.m.

4) The nurses in Boyle's segment about the National Health Service will be real-life nurses.

5) The identity of the lighter of the Olympic flame won't be known until the last minute. Among the touted candidates are Steve Redgrave, winner of five Olympic gold medals for rowing, and Roger Bannister, the runner who broke the 4-minute mile in 1954.

6) The scene with live farm animals will reportedly features 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens and nine geese.

7) The Isles of Wonder theme was inspired by Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

8) Actor Kenneth Branagh, according to the Mirror newspaper, is due to read Caliban's speech from the play that starts "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises."

9) The opening ceremony will begin with the ringing of a 27-ton bell, the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world, made by the 442-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. It's the same foundry that made America's Liberty Bell, in Philadelphia.

10) A James Bond character will parachute into the arena at some point, according to reports.

With files from Paul Waldie in London

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

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