Thursday, March 23, 2006

Frances Grant: And it's gold for... prattling

The art of "stadium theatre" is a treat that normally comes along only once every few years. But lately, like some rare planetary alignment, we've enjoyed serial sightings of one of the human race's weirder rites: the opening and closing ceremonies for those international sporting events known as the "Games".

No sooner did the Winter Olympics fade than it was all on for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The Italians might have style but nobody can take an opening ceremony to the bonkers heights achieved by the Aussies. Indeed there were few things that touched the ground in an opening extravaganza obviously aimed at putting rival city Sydney's Olympics opener of tap-dancing lawn-mowers in the shade.

Strange objects such as a flying tram, a "thong", a toy duck and koalas with detachable heads were flying round the stadium in a dizzying whirlwind of loopiness and incomprehensibility. There was more levitation than a whole series of Harry Potter movies; more surreality than the Salvador Dali museum.

Only the Queen's ride into the MCG stayed disappointingly earthbound. Her Maj, always a stickler for propriety even in the face of all that mad Aussie exuberance, would probably have loosened up had her big shiny Roller been allowed into orbit.

Like most "stadium theatre", as our host Geoff Bryan described it, you probably had to be there. But our cheery commentators were determined to help viewers make the most of the confusion.

Bryan set the tone: The athletes, we learned, would be drawing us together with the spectacle of their struggles for success and the unscripted drama of their competition. I'm glad he made the spontaneous nature of the event clear. Just in case you might mistake lawn bowls or clay target shooting, for instance, for some kind of high octane fiction like, say, 24.

Jane Kiely remembered her glory days as an athlete representing her country, when she was "so proud, I just about burst!" And why not, you had to say. In a stadium full of people whizzing round on Rollerblades and going off like catherine wheels, an exploding athlete could hardly be cause for alarm.

Anyone familiar with Australian newspaper cartoonist Michael Leunig's work would know he is obsessed with ducks as symbols of whimsy and innocence. But it's highly likely that for most of the billion-strong telly audience, the long item about the boy and the duck was a tad obscure.

Our commentators tried their best with helpful pointers such as, "the fantasies are being encompassed by the music".

One chaotic bit posed a particularly difficult interpretive challenge: "The theme is don't call on Koala Rescue if you are in trouble," guessed our host, a piece of wisdom we can all apply next time we're stuck up a gum tree. The gold medal in the word power event, however, went to Keith Quinn on the motorcycle ballet: "Futuristic, esoteric, balletic!"

Let's hope there are enough unique and splendid adjectives left to cover the games , the major attraction of which is seeing New Zealand look like a sporting giant beside Kiribati and the Isle of Man.

And if the sporting finest from Tuvalu and Jersey don't float your boat, there's always the closing ceremony to look forward to. Perhaps we'll learn more about why you should never fly with a duck-woman in urban areas.

Perhaps our commentators could take a lead from Melbourne's most famous suburban nightmares, Kath & Kim, if the proceedings get too complex and just describe events as "unusual, different, 'noice'."

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