Before a 1.5 billion strong global audience, Birmingham unveiled a breath-taking spectacle that encompassed the gaudy, the Bard and the utterly unbelievable. Tonight’s shimmering opening ceremony, at Alexander Stadium, was, at times, a surreal, hypnotic rollercoaster ride through the ages: a kaleidoscopic coloured history book of Birmingham.
It toyed with the senses. It was, during magical moments, a near athletics inspired, triumphant acid trip. With Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight executive producer, organisers threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the dazzling programme. That’s possibly because the sink was one of the few things not invented in our city. Now the cooker, on the other hand…
It was weird, it was wonderful, it was wacky and it worked. Tonight, the Second City was second to none.
The bar was set by film director Danny Boyle’s London Olympics ceremony 10 years ago. Birmingham raised it considerably. A 2,000 strong cast provided a dizzy dance – to the beat of bhangra drums – around Birmingham’s milestones.
The night began, in the sky, with a shooting star, floating homes and Red Arrows display, on the ground a convoy of classic Birmingham made cars.
An Aston Martin carried royal representatives the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. There was a nod to Shakespeare. There was Samuel Johnson, who created the dictionary. There was composer Edward Elgar. There was 18th century think-tank The Lunar Society.
All the historic figures were represented by dramatic, over-sized puppets. There were 1980s heart-throbs Duran Duran and heavy metal pioneer Tony Iommi. That’s quite a leap – from Bard to Black Sabbath in just over three hours.
Drag queen Ginny Lemon descended in a hot air balloon, to the soundtrack of a burlesque “steam punk” band. Birmingham Royal Ballet performed a “canal” dance routine, the soundtrack provided by Black Sabbath’s Iommi and saxophonist Soweto Kinch.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Elmhurst Ballet School and inclusive dance company Critical Mass also entertained, along with a 700 strong choir.
As if things couldn’t become more bizarre, beautiful and Brummie, a 30 foot Bullring Bull, red eyed and snorting smoke, was dragged on chains into the arena.
History, humour and dream sequences ran like a golden thread through proceedings. And it was built on the bedrock of Birmingham’s rich cultural diversity: a journey impregnated with the smell of M&B and Ansells beer, Bournville chocolate and our famous baltis.
A journey given a moving narrative by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban, saved by Birmingham. For just over three hours, Alexander Stadium became a courtyard for the Commonwealth.
A 700 strong choir sang out as camera phones flashed, like a carpet of twinkling stars. In the not too distant past, Olympic and Commonwealth opening ceremonies consisted solely of sportsmen and women, resplendent in blazers, marching earnestly around an athletics track.
They are now big budget epics, a collision of showbiz and sport. Tradition was adhered to, with the parade of 72 competing nations and over 5,000 athletes, England’s flag carried by weightlifter Emily Campbell and diver Jack Laugher who entered the stadium to the strain of Queen anthem, We Will Rock You.
But the pomp has now been doused in pop, pyrotechnics and lavish production. And Birmingham has provided the most wonderful, all singing, all dancing curtain-raiser of them all.
On the eve of the big night, Knight said: “A lot of opening ceremonies are visually spectacular but emotionally quite timid, I think.
“It feels like it’s Birmingham’s turn to shine – and this show certainly shines.”
Last night’s performance was far from timid. It was a theatrical thunderbolt that tore-up the tried-and-tested script and set a new template. It did not merely shine, it was a blinding spotlight on what Birmingham has given to the world.
Iqbal Khan, the Birmingham ceremony’s artistic director, said: “It’s so vibrant, it’s so vivid, this place (Birmingham). It’s moving so quickly. And I think it’s time to make a noise about it. Not just its past, but about its present as well.”
“Think of the show like a concept album,” he added. “Each track has an extraordinary crescendo and iconic moments throughout.”
For Khan, a theatre and opera director, it was mission accomplished.
The deafening roar from last night’s cavalcade – a glorious carnival of colour and culture – is still echoing around the planet. It was, to borrow from the Games slogan, “a Brum ting”, a uniquely Brum ting, with whistle, bells and a giant bull.
Birmingham’s gymnastic medal hope Joe Fraser said: “This is something to tell my kids and grandkids.”
Such was the mind-blowing – at times mind-bending – nature of what was unfurled at Alexander Stadium, they may not believe you, Joe.
Source: Mike Lockley