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.

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all