Entertainment & Arts

London 2012 Festival unveils final line-up

Meera Syal, Julie Walters and The Noisettes attend the London 2012 Festival Programme Launch at Tower of London on April 26
Image caption Meera Syal, Julie Walters and The Noisettes helped launch the London 2012 Festival at the Tower of London

The final line-up for the London 2012 Festival has been announced, with Stephen Fry and comedian Tim Minchin the latest names to join the Olympic arts celebrations.

Other new events include a landmark dance event in Glasgow and a comedy barge trip from London to Edinburgh.

The 12-week arts festival is the climax of the four-year Cultural Olympiad with 12,000 events taking place.

The UK-wide festival pulls together major spectacles and smaller events.

At Thursday's launch event at the Tower of London, festival director Ruth Mackenzie said the festival would "showcase the best in international culture when the eyes of the world are on us this summer".

Free tickets

Embattled culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was also at the launch, and said Britain's arts institutions would be in "the global spotlight as really never before".

He emphasised the range of events on offer, "from Beethoven to Jay-Z; from Shakespeare to Mike Leigh; from Stephen Fry to Wallace and Gromit".

Mr Hunt also made a reference to his current predicament, with claims he broke ministerial rules in his dealings with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Looking out at the assembled reporters, whose numbers had been boosted by his presence, he remarked: "I'm delighted there is so much media interest in the London 2012 Festival."

However, the minister left the launch before a planned question and answer session.

Nationwide events

Image caption French company Les Commandos Percu will perform a music and firework extravaganza - just one of the 12,000 events in the London 2012 Festival

The festival begins on Midsummer's Day, 21 June, and runs through to 9 September - the end of the Paralympic Games.

Organisers are keen to point out that 10 million free tickets are available across the UK.

The latest arrivals on the programme include Playing the Games, a two-week "comedic commentary" on the Games at London's Criterion Theatre, curated by Stephen Fry.

"It's going to be pretty wild," Mackenzie told the BBC. "Stephen has been a huge fan of this Olympics from the bid onwards."

She added: "We always said we'd leave comedy for the end, because comedians aren't so good at telling you two years in advance where they want to be, and they're still not that good which is why we've got pop-up events yet to be announced via the website ."

Quirky offerings

Image caption Choreographer Elizabeth Streb and her dancers will swoop and catapult around some of London's landmarks

Australian comedian Tim Minchin, who wrote the songs in hit West End show Matilda the Musical, will perform a gig at Cornwall's Eden Project.

Python star Terry Jones and Anne Dudley have created a new children's opera The Owl and the Pussycat that will travel through London's canals.

Meanwhile, Tales of the Riverbank will see a group of comedians travel by canal boat from London to Edinburgh with pop-up performances along the route during July.

Actress Julie Walters, who appears in the BBC's Shakespeare season and the National Theatre's The Last of the Haussmans, said she was "utterly thrilled" to be part of the festival.

But she added with a laugh: "I didn't realise I was until a only a couple of weeks ago!"

Asked if she worried about the costs of the festival, she said: "You can't just cut everything back. The arts are really important. People need their entertainment, they need to be able to look at themselves on all sorts of levels and that's what art does."

The opening day of the festival on 21 June will see Lake Windermere lit up by pyrotechnics, an open-air concert in the shadow of Scotland's Stirling Castle, a Peace One Day Concert hosted by actor Jude Law in Derry/Londonderry and the UK premiere of a choral work in Birmingham.

At the end of the festival, Scottish choreographer Michael Clark has been commissioned to create a large-scale, participatory dance event at Glasgow music venue Barrowlands to mark the handover to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Among the quirkier festival offerings are the world premiere of Stockhausen opera with a string quartet playing live from four helicopters.

There will also be an artwork inspired by the final scene of Michael Caine movie The Italian Job. Richard Wilson's Hang On A Minute Lads, I've Got A Great Idea... will see a full-sized replica coach balanced on the De La Warr pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.

Cloud tower

But not all of the announced works have gone to plan.

Scandinavian Olafur Eliasson's proposed art project Take a Deep Breath was turned down for a £1m grant after the Olympic Lottery Distributor said the piece no longer met its criteria.

The installation would have invited people to inhale and exhale on behalf of "a person, a movement or a cause" and record it on a website in a personal "breath bubble".

Eliasson still appears on the London 2012 Festival programme, with an as-yet-untitled "major new commission" at Tate Modern.

Meanwhile, a question mark hangs over artist Anthony McCall's planned vertical tower of cloud which is set to rise over Merseyside "as far as the eye can see".

The £500,000 publicly-funded artwork - simply called Column - has faced delays due to aircraft safety concerns.

Image caption The festival will feature dance company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

But Ruth Mackenzie said she was "absolutely confident" that the column of mist would get off the ground after liaison between the Civil Aviation Authority and the local authorities.

Mackenzie also said that a potential boycott by campanologists of a nationwide bell-ringing event to launch the first day of the Olympics had been averted.

Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed wants the whole nation to ring whatever bell they have to hand for three minutes at 0800 on 27 July as part of his Work No. 1197 All the Bells.

In November, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers described the plans as "misconceived" and suggested they might not take part.

But Mackenzie said bellringers were now " all signed up" , along with the Royal Navy which would be ringing ships' bells on the day.

The Cultural Olympiad began in 2008, but faced early criticisms that it lacked focus and public recognition.

In 2009-10, Royal Opera House executive Tony Hall and Ruth Mackenzie came on board tasked with turning the Cultural Olympiad around.

Mackenzie said she had been encouraged by a BBC London poll last year that around half of Londoners had heard of the festival. "I think we've already turned the corner on awareness," she said.

The festival, she said, would leave a legacy of art works, and had offered young unemployed people the chance to have their first job in the arts.

"We are hoping that cultural tourism will rise as a result of us showing the world what a brilliant place the UK is to visit," she added.

With additional reporting by Chi Chi Izundu

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