Big top secret: 2012 Olympic opening ceremony is taking shape in a closely guarded tent

At the Dagenham Ford plant, rehearsals are under way for the showcase

The traffic streaming down the A13 can hardly miss it: a giant blue-and-yellow big top slap bang in the middle of the old Ford factory at Dagenham, east London. But this, in fact, is the world's most top-secret circus.

Police and security guards have been swarming around it like bees since it appeared almost overnight two weeks ago, much to the surprise of local residents, who have not had much to twitch the net curtains over since the last British-built Ford Fiesta drove out the front gates almost a decade ago.

It is under these stripy spires that the Greatest Show on Earth (copyright Seb Coe) is about to take shape. The first full-scale rehearsals for Danny Boyle's Olympics Opening Ceremony are soon to begin. Extra security has been hired to keep away prying eyes and long-lens photographers, but so well-kept was the secret none have turned up.

"I didn't know they were doing the opening ceremony in there," said one female resident of nearby Sierra Drive, separated from the magic by a busy road and a barbed-wire fence.

Another resident, pushing her pram along in the driving rain, said: "My daughter thought it was a circus. The Olympics, is it? What a waste of money."

In December David Cameron doubled the budget for the four ceremonies – opening and closing for the Olympics and the Paralympics – from £40m to £81m, and immediately a call went out for more performers. The 12,000 dancers, drummers, skateboarders, acrobats and lookalikes for British historical figures now secured will be spending an awful lot of time here over the next three months, before the Opening Ceremony at 9pm on Friday 27 July.

Details of quite what to expect remain scarce. Danny Boyle has revealed that the ceremony is named Isles of Wonder and is based on a few tantalising lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest. It has been reported that the actor Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of the Globe and the star of the recent West End and Broadway triumph Jersualem, will read the lines, "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not."

The same quotation will appear on a huge bell hanging at one end of the stadium, currently being cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the same company that produced Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

If Rylance has been to the Dagenham big top, he has not been spotted. Nor have the locals seen any figures with giant golf balls for heads, as featured in a short video of the rehearsals so far. Women dressed as the famous suffragette Emily Davison, who ran in front of the king's horse, are also expected to appear. Ms Davison would feel particularly at home. It was at the Ford factory in 1968 where women workers went on a famous strike over equal pay, as portrayed in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham.

Hundreds of NHS nurses will also feature in one sequence, and Boyle has promised to capture the British "sense of humour". Pupils from schools in Barking & Dagenham are also taking part.

Other rehearsals will be held at Three Mills Studios, in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, where Boyle and the director of ceremonies, Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry, have been working on the events since last year.

The closing ceremony is to be called "A Symphony of British Music", featuring British music "from Elgar to Adele", according to the ceremony's director, Kim Gavin, the man behind the recent phenomenally successful Take That arena tours. Adele, Sir Paul McCartney, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and the Spice Girls have all been tipped to perform. It was recently revealed that the Sex Pistols had declined an invitation to take part.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?