An unlikely protest pin-up for the summer's Olympic Games


Adam Sherwin
Monday 16 April 2012 00:00 BST
Emily Davison, who was killed trying to stop King George V’s horse Anmer in the 1913 Derby
Emily Davison, who was killed trying to stop King George V’s horse Anmer in the 1913 Derby

Protesters will not be allowed to ruin the Olympics, organisers vowed after Trenton Oldfield's Boat Race invasion. But the role of civil disobedience in British history could itself be hailed with a theatrical tribute to the suffragettes at the London Games' opening ceremony.

Details of the inaugural ceremony, devised by the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, are tightly under wraps.

Titled "The Isles of Wonder" after a line spoken by Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest, the £27m show will celebrate the best of Britain.

One radical idea currently being prepared is a section dramatising the role of the suffragettes, the militant activists whose often-violent actions forced the British establishment to confront the question of votes for women.

It is understood that suffragette outfits have been commissioned for use in the ceremony, and consideration has been given to performers re-enacting the death of Emily Davison, the campaigner killed when she ran in front of the King's horse during the 1913 Derby.

The suffragette sequence will be further considered following the protest by Mr Oldfield, a self-styled "anti-elitism" campaigner. He has called for protesters to "do something similar to Emily Davison" during the Games, after successfully disrupting the Boat Race.

Yesterday, protesters angry about the corporate nature of the Games threatened to bring disruption to London's streets by blocking special traffic lanes reserved for athletes, sponsors and VIPs.

Boyle, the Slumdog Millionaire director, said his opening ceremony featuring a cast of 12,000 volunteers, and expected to be viewed by a worldwide audience of one billion, would capture the "essence of Britain" and depict a land recovering from its industrial legacy.

One sequence will be cast from NHS nurses and children from the London Olympic boroughs. The show, performed to a musical accompaniment from the techno group Underworld, will also celebrate the "unique" British sense of humour, Boyle said.

The 27 July event will begin at 9pm with the sound of the largest harmonically tuned bell in Europe. Produced by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, it is two metres tall by three metres wide, and weighs 23 tons. It will be inscribed with Shakespeare's line "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises" from The Tempest, as well as "London 2012".

An Olympics spokesman declined to comment on the suffragette preparations, but said the show would "celebrate the best of British while representing all the regions".

The intrigue surrounding the opening ceremony is likely to fall away only when a full dress rehearsal is held in front of a capacity crowd of 80,000 in the Olympic Stadium, which will be fitted with a million-watt sound system.

The Government has doubled the budget for the four Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies to £81m. But the £27m that Boyle has to play with is well below the £65m lavished on Beijing's spectacular opening show in 2008. A more "intimate" event is promised as a consequence.

The 12 August closing ceremony, titled "A Symphony of British Music", will feature the songs which have come to define the nation in the decades following the Second World War. An invitation to the Sex Pistols to represent the punk explosion has been declined.

The Musicians' Union has complained that a large proportion of the vocal tracks and music used in the shows will be pre-recorded, leaving rumoured performers including Take That and Sir Paul McCartney performing little more than a "karaoke" role.

The organisers said the technical complexities of staging the show in a large, bowl-shaped arena, such as sound delays, meant that the use of pre-recorded music was unavoidable.

Race is on to be 'worst sponsor'

Lord Coe's claim that London 2012 will be the greenest Olympic Games in history is "corporate spin", say human-rights groups, who today launch a campaign to highlight the environmental record of three multinational sponsors.

BP, Rio Tinto and Dow Chemical Company are respectively providing fuel for the Olympic fleet, metal for medals and an ornate stadium wrap. But the "Greenwash Gold 2012" campaign will be presenting "medals" to the companies in July based on the outcome of a public vote for the "worst corporate sponsor".

Nina Lakhani

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