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.

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

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy