London 2012 Closing Ceremony - fireworks can be relied on to avert disaster

In the space of a fortnight, the Brits showed they’re getting to be remarkably good at sport. They collected 65 medals and came third in the medal standings. A fantastic performance – GB is looking like the New Australia!

But what did Team GB do over the same fortnight with its traditional and formidable strength in the arts and entertainment? They lost form, that’s what. It was like the red-hot favourite not only didn’t get in the medals but didn’t finish at all.

Danny Boyle got them off to a flying start with his brilliant and universally acclaimed Opening Ceremony, but Kim Gavin showed with his execrable Closing Ceremony that Team GB might be a one man show.

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Sure, the Closing Ceremony wasn’t without its moments. I loved the octopus, the Freddie Mercury clip was remarkable, and the tribute to John Lennon was appropriate and affecting. It was as if Lennon wrote Imagine specially for an Olympics ceremony (“Imagine there’s no heaven/countries”).

But there wasn’t much else to get excited about. It was a pretty underwhelming showing. If I were a Brit who’d basked in the reflected glory of Danny Boyle’s effort I think I might be a wee bit embarrassed.

I didn’t expect it to be heavily loaded with meaning, but I didn’t expect woeful acoustics and obvious miming from some performers either. I fully understand why John Lennon and Freddie Mercury didn’t show up in person to perform, but not the likes of Kate Bush and David Bowie.

The Closing Ceremony is billed as more of a party than the Opening and many of the songs suited the mood. But why waste the extraordinary talent of Annie Lennox on such a non-descript song? Likewise with George Michael’s second song (actually, since when does George have the stature to warrant two songs?).

Some of the performers didn’t strike me as best-in-class either. Not saying they’re not a competent band, but why give space to the likes of Take That when your potential options include many of the greatest living performers in the world. Just think about who wasn’t on the bill.

I thought the super model sequence was especially pointless – it wasn’t entertainment and it wasn’t art. They didn’t “entertain” in any real sense of the word, just flounced around for a minute or two. I thought for a second I was at a trade show rather than at one of the biggest theatrical events in the world (in fact in history) in terms of audience size.

The whole event came across, for the most part, as just a concert with multiple performers. One after the other. Unlike the Opening Ceremony, I didn’t get a sense of any strong conceptual idea structuring the entire show or even, with one or two exceptions, of key themes around the various elements.

Yes, Timothy Spall played Churchill quoting Shakespeare and there were cars apparently wrapped in “literature”. I shouldn’t have to rely on Eddie McGuire though to understand what’s intended. I’m not sure I even want to contemplate what was intended by the dancers during the Eric Idle bit.

There wasn’t much in the way of wit or zest either. Too many performers just arrived and, well, performed (or in the case of Madness, muddled through). That’s fine at a concert or a festival, but an occasion of this magnitude should’ve been conceived as a theatrical event.

I’ve no doubt there’re people who thought it superb but I found it underwhelming. It was a lost opportunity. It felt a bit like the B team was running the relay while the stars stayed home.

Maybe Danny Boyle raised my expectations unreasonably high. Or maybe the aristocracy of Britain’s entertainment industry simply weren’t prepared to turn amateur for the night. If so, that should tell Britons that winning a record haul of Olympic medals doesn’t necessarily make you a better place.

I’m just glad fireworks were invented. They can save anything.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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