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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor