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Michael Coveney: Pop spectacle wins another gold medal

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The hope that British theatre would feature in the Olympic Games closing ceremony was faint, given that the show was staged by Kim Gavin, closely associated with Take That (who did appear, minus Robbie Williams) and a television effects specialist.

But although the spectacle might not have quite matched Danny Boyle's opening ceremony of 17 days ago, it was not far behind, and full of theatrical surprises. Lloyd Webber (Julian, not Andrew) popped up playing his cello and Darcey Bussell flew into the stadium for real (the Queen had cheated with a double) as a gorgeous orange phoenix at the head of two hundred Royal Ballet dancers.

Kenneth Branagh's speech from The Tempest was reprised by Timothy Spall as Churchill, and the street party theme was kicked off with some devilish dustbin drumming from Stomp on a scaled down London landscape of the Eye, the Gherkin, Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

Here was another fantastic television spectacle, with some quirky bits, too, some of them incomprehensible, such as the exploding yellow van that regurgitated Batman and Robin, aka Del Boy and Rodney ("you plonker") from Only Fools and Horses, the Ku Klux Clan parade of the Pet Shop Boys and the goose-stepping accomplices to the fashion floats that revealed Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

These vignettes worryingly displayed a confusion of ritual with a right-wing rally, but perhaps that was to appease the reactionary numbskulls who felt that Danny Boyle's show was a left-wing hippie cop out, with the temerity to make something glorious of the National Health Service and the suffragette movement.

Despite the extraordinary individual achievements of Mo Farah, Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and Chris Hoy, these were the people's games: the longest and warmest applause of the evening was reserved for the 70,000 volunteers.

And Damien Hirst's tie-dyed setting of a huge Union Jack supplied not only cat walks and platforms for the performers - and thrilling runways for London taxis, Rolls Royces and a fleet of lambrettas for the Kaiser Chiefs' rendition of "Pinball Wizard" - but a multitude of inlets for the medal winners and other athletes to swarm into and stay close to the pop concert.

We forget how universal has been the appeal of Pink Floyd, the Spice Girls, Take That, Oasis and Queen; while only one of those groups (you guess) really has much appeal for me, the eclecticism of the programme demonstrated the range of our music culture, its staying power and enduring popularity.

That point was movingly reinforced by the digitally re-mastered image of John Lennon singing "Imagine", as though he'd been cryonically preserved all these years after being shot on a New York sidewalk. A group of dancers - including my friend Sarah Fildes - then reconstructed Lennon's head from slabs of what looked like grey polystyrene while a young signing choir from Lennon's home city of Liverpool sang the backing track.

I mention a friend; I also had my clinical nurse at UCH, Gillian Basnett, dancing in the opening ceremony, and my colleague Roger Foss stewarding in Trafalgar Square. Everyone I know had some connection or other with these games, and the same must be true for everyone you know, too.

That is why the claims of inclusivity and participation are not hollow. As a nation, I think we've surprised ourselves on how close, and how easily, we can become to each other. Sport, like theatre, recreates the shared, fundamental human talent for community.

And did you ever see a pop concert like it? Jessie J was the star for me, delivering her hit song "Price Tag" in a body stocking before joining Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz in great version of the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing" and then Brian May in an electrifying "We Will Rock You," a stadium favourite that is best done in stadia (as opposed to West End theatres).

George Michael did a cool set, Madness flashed by, then Fatboy Slim arrived from Brighton in a holiday shirt and a giant rubber octopus. Even Russell Brand got away with "I am the Walrus" and commentators used their favourite word, "bonkers" - there really was no other - for Eric Idle sliding out of a detumescent rocket, picking himself up and leading a massed chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" with a crowd of mini-skirted centurions, roller-skating nuns, Scottish pipers and Indian temple dancers. 
"We lit the flame and we have lit up the world," said Sebastian Coe, the Games organiser, and he did not sound foolish or vainglorious. The handover to Rio - who host the next Games in 2016; I can't wait - was done with panache and dignity, and a superb samba floor show starring Brazil's iconic footballer Pele in a team shirt.

I'm already missing the rowing at Eton Dornay, the BMX racing at Hadleigh Castle, the boxing, the beach volleyball, the judo, the dressage (the what? I never thought I'd live to say that) and the long distance running. But I'm already marking my card for the Paralympics, who have launched a lovely, cheeky advertising campaign addressed to the Olympics proper: "Thanks for the warm-up!" On your marks...


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