Olympic Ceremonies team: An awkward gig
Rupert Goold makes flamboyant theatre. Last night's opening of the RSC's Romeo and Juliet at Stratford featured movie-like sound design, lighting cues as busy as a fireworks display and a stage that hissed and erupted.
Exciting and energetic; although some I spoke to felt it was a little much. Difficult, they thought, for the star-crossed lovers to properly emote while being goosed by a jet of steam from stage left. Still, the actors appeared to enjoy the experience and received warm, but not tumultuous, applause.
One seasoned Stratford-goer said during the break, after the lively first half, that the show was "rather over-produced; reminds me of one of those so-called Saturday night television spectaculars." At which point a thought struck me.
A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Cultural Olympiad, reporting that a new boss with a new vision has been put in place, with a brief explanation as to why we have a Cultural Olympiad. I didn't mention the major events that do not come under the auspices of the Olympiad: the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the Paralympics.
These are the responsibility of the Ceremonies team at the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG).
It's an awkward gig. More than any other moment during the Olympics - save perhaps the 100m final - "the eyes of the world" is not a hackneyed phrase; it is the stark truth. Billions will be watching. Most will be thinking one thing: how does this compare to Beijing? Now, there are many arguments to be had about the political messages in Beijing's opening and closing ceremonies, but few could argue that they weren't spectacular - unlike the moment when the Chinese handed the baton to London.
Boris Johnson waved a flag, not completely convincingly, before presenting the world with some of the oldest cliches about London. A slow red bus; queues; bowler hats; lots of umbrellas. This was not the hip, modern or funky city that London has been presenting itself as over the last couple of decades. Leona Lewis might as well have told those watching that "the food's awful, too".
It was clear at that point that the Ceremonies team at London Olympics headquarters needs help working out how best spend its budget of around $50m (£33m). It is well placed to find some. The UK is a global hub for the arts, with many of the best conductors, choreographers, directors, dancers, technicians, artists and so on, either living here or regular visitors.
This summer, it is announcing the appointment of artistic directors for the four main ceremonies. A good idea might be a call to Rupert Goold or a theatre director of his ilk to see if they could be involved. The team needs someone who is a natural collaborator, who has a contemporary approach and who knows exactly what spectacular looks like. On the basis of last night, some RSC-style fireworks in this context might well not be a bad thing.