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IndepeNdent evaluations

of London 2012 festival

Essays by:

Michael Coveney and Marc Sands


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 3

INTRODUCTION

The University of Liverpool’s Institute of Cultural Capital is undertaking

an Evaluation of the Cultural Olympiad, including its finale, the London

2012 Festival.

In addition, however, we wanted to invite some specialist independent

experts to look at the artistic programming and the marketing strategies

of the London 2012 Festival. We were hoping for subjective think pieces,

rather than balanced analysis.

Good curated festivals, by definition, are subjective, following the taste

of the curator, and sharing the vision of artists, who of course speak in

their own independent and remarkable voices.

We felt that in the spirit of London 2012 Festival, we would like to

commission some independent and remarkable critics to reflect on

the festival.

Michael Coveney is a theatre critic and writer. He has written for the

Financial Times, The Observer, Daily Mail, Whatsonstage.com and

Plays & Players, which he edited, as well as being Deputy Arts Editor

for the Financial Times. He has written books about Ken Campbell,

Maggie Smith, The Glasgow Citizens Theatre and contemporary theatre.

Marc Sands is the Director of Audiences & Media at Tate, before which

he was Marketing Director for The Guardian and The Observer and

a Board member of Guardian News & Media. He was a founding

employee of OnDigital, and worked as Marketing Director for LWT/

Granada Television, starting his career in advertising.

We thank them both for spirited and stimulating essays, from which we

have learnt, and at least as importantly, which we have enjoyed reading.

We hope you will also enjoy these final commissions of the London

2012 Festival

Ruth Mackenzie CBE

Director, Cultural Olympiad

April 2013


04

Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands

Cultural

Olympiad

A Festival in search of an identity

Marc Sands


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 05

THEY WERE VIVID

TECHNICOLOR

MEMORIES

THAT REVOLVED

AROUND AN

EXPLOSION

OF SPORT AND

CULTURE

It was early December 2012 and I was heading

home from Paris checking in at the Gare du

Nord having spent a couple of days with leading

European museums discussing what a digital

future might look like for the museums and

galleries of the world.

I was looking forward to a solid snooze on

the Eurostar.

My mobile rang, it was not a familiar number but

I was feeling generous and answered it anyway.

‘Marc how are you?’ It was Ruth Mackenzie from

the London 2012 Festival. I had not spoken to her

for several months.

As director of the London 2012 Festival she and

her team had recently completed a punishing and

extraordinary year directing, supporting and

promoting the Festival.

A particular memory for me involved sharing a

stage with Ruth in Trafalgar Square in front of

several thousand small children for the launch

of Tate’s mass participation film ‘The Itch of the

Golden Nit”.

I remembered with a smile her discomfort at

the time at being chased around the stage

by Wenlock and the other Olympic mascot,

Mandeville.

Ruth and her team must have attended 100’s of

similar events throughout 2012.

“I was wondering if you would be interested

in writing a piece evaluating the marketing

communications, and branding of the 2012

Cultural Festival….”.

“Hello, sounds great but not a great time to

speak… can I call you back tomorrow?”

Normally, the journey from Paris to London is two

hours of sleep masquerading as work. Not on this

occasion. Instead, I spent the time re-visiting my

experiences of the Olympic summer.

They were vivid technicolor memories that

revolved around an explosion of sport

and culture.

An amazing Saturday night on the track

when Great Britain won three gold medals.

Extraordinary individual performances from

so many amazing athletes Usain Bolt, Mo Farah,

Jessica Ennis and Ellie Simmonds and

numerous others.

Lagging not too far behind these sporting

memories, I had a strong re-collection of an

amazing summer of culture.

A summer of cultural highlights which in no

particular order included, the Africa Express

Train, bridge jumpers, Damien Hirst, Lucien

Freud, an insane circus in Piccadilly Circus,

Olympic posters, mass bell-ringing, all 37

Shakespeare plays in 37 languages.


06

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

FOR THE PUBLIC,

THERE WAS

LITTLE OR NO

UNDERSTANDING

OF THE

RELATIONSHIP

BETWEEN THE

‘SPORTING’

OLYMPICS AND

THE ‘CULTURAL ‘

OLYMPICS

Peace Camps, a national dance off, music

weekender in Hackney, a bit of Stockhausen

and Pina Bausch. All this and a whole lot more

wrapped in an awful lot of swirling pink fuschia

and firmly stamped with a vivid London Festival

2012 logo.

For many, 2012 had been a year full of personal

memories shared with millions of others,

extraordinarily vivid personal recollections of

very public events.

In amongst the excitement of the Olympic year

was the Cultural Olympiad/ London 2012

Festival. The facts, numbers and statistics

surrounding the Festival were impressive.

Once it was all over, we learned that the

London 2012 Festival saw public engagement

of 20.2 million, of which 15.4 were free

attendances. In total there were 621 productions

and projects,13,006 performances and events

at 1,270 venues across the UK

More than 200 artworks were commissioned and

there were 160 world and UK premieres.

The London 2012 Festival was the climax of the

£55m Cultural Olympiad, the wide-ranging

four year cultural build up to the Olympic and

Paralympic Games that began in 2008.

For a small minority, it may have been four

years of culture but for the majority, it was just

a few glorious weeks, from June 21st to

September 9th when we had the chance to

go to, engage with and experience culture in

an unprecedented way.

Throughout that magical summer every day there

was something new, something cultural taking

place somewhere in the UK, presented under the

banner of the London 2012 Festival.

A cultural avalanche had been put in place

and had been unleashed on an unsuspecting

British public.

As Director of Media and Audiences for Tate, I

was in part responsible for Tate’s relationship

with the Festival and had something of an

insider’s perspective.

When not at work, like everyone else, I also got

to experience the madness, mayhem and

brilliance of that insane summer in London that

was the Olympics and its close relative the

London 2012 Festival.


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 07

What is a

Cultural Olympiad?

In late 2009, early 2010 the Festival team and

many of the partner cultural institutions (Tate,

National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery,

Southbank Centre and a host of others) got

together for the first time to talk about branding,

marketing and communication of the Cultural

Olympiad.

We met for a days briefing and ‘blue sky/ every

idea is a good idea’ thinking at the Graeae

Theatre in north London. Present at the meeting

was an impressive array of heads, leaders and

directors of numerous cultural organisations.

Amongst those present, I thought the appetite

for the Cultural Olympiad was fairly muted. The

cultural partners knew they were going to be

part of ‘it’ but did not quite understand what ‘it’

was. Why would it be a good thing to be part

of? What was going to be asked of them?

By the end of the day it was clear that the

possibility of creating a Cultural Olympiad with

a lasting cultural legacy was within reach of the

Festival organisers and their cultural partners.

It would take a collective enthusiasm, a fair

wind, a little compromise and some as yet not

commissioned extraordinary cultural events that

would fire the public’s imagination.

Assuming that an extraordinary programme

of events could be curated, it would become

a marketing, communications and branding

challenge to ensure success for the Festival.

Marketing, communications and branding are

most effective when responding to a clear set of

objectives that need realizing and the barriers

to realizing them are clearly understood.

The Cultural Olympiad/ London 2012 Festival

had 5 key objectives.

1. To make Culture an integral part of the

The Greatest Show on Earth;

2. To offer experiences that will be

remembered for a lifetime;

3. To introduce new audiences to the

UK’s exceptional cultural and

creative industries;

4. To send a statement around the world

about the UK’s cultural offering;

5. To provide an opportunity for everybody

to be part of the London 2012 experience;

The objectives were clear but there were

significant barriers to achieving them.

Choosing a name

for the Festival

For the public, there was little or

no understanding of the relationship

between the ‘sporting’ Olympics and

the ‘cultural ‘ Olympics.

For the man and woman on the street, mention

of the word Olympics conjures up memories

of wonderful sporting achievement that every

four years are seared into our collective

consciousness.

Many of us measure our lives in the four

year gaps between the Olympics – rather

like election nights, the start of wars, royal

weddings, you remember where you were

when it all happened.

From Alberto Juantareno ‘opening up his

legs’ to Daley Thompson asking if the world’s

greatest athlete was gay. Olympic memories

are of Coe, Ovett, Cram, Brendan Foster,

Korbut, Comaneci, Viren, Lewis, Bolt and the

‘evil’ Ben Johnson.

If you play the ‘Olympic’ word association

game it is unlikely that Hirst, Freud,

Shakespeare, Creed and Emin immediately

spring to mind.

The Olympics is about sport.

The Olympics is NOT about culture.

Obviously, the Cultural Olympiad team realized

that the sporting Olympics was always going

to be the main event. To benefit from the

excitement of the games they needed to position

the Cultural Olympiad as a close relation but

not wholly subsumed within the games.

This was partially addressed by branding

the climax of the four year Cultural Olympiad.

During the immediate build up to the games

and during the games the Cultural Olympiad

was dropped in favour of the ‘London 2012

Festival’.

Strategically, this was the right move. What was

lost in losing the word Olympiad, would

be gained through the association with ‘2012

The simple mention of ‘London 2012’ in the

title would act as the trigger to associate the

Festival with the Olympics, without it becoming

swamped by the main event.

Nevertheless the ‘London 2012 Festival ‘

was still a festival without a natural home in the

hearts and minds of a British public who were

focusing, quite understandably on something

completely different.


08

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

A Festival brand is more

than a series of events

The Festival team knew that it was a very

diverse programme with a public that was also

hungry for information about what the Festival

was, where they could see it and how they

could participate.

They took the strategic view that the events

themselves would be sufficient to define the

Festival, rather than developing a campaign/

strand of communication that, from a brand

perspective, would explain the story behind the

Festival. They built the perception of the Festival

around a small number of key events.

There are numerous marketing communication

strands available to tell the story behind the

Festival, what it is and why it exists. The Festival

took the decision that digital, film, social media

and local activation would be the preferred

channels to get people engaged and to have

a conversation with the London 2012 Festival

brand, rather than being communicated by

traditional advertising.

The quality of the events would go a long way in

determining its success in the eyes of the public.

But to be remembered as a great festival you need

more than simply a series of great products. You

need them to hang together coherently.

In advance of the events, the public appetite and

expectations, would be determined by the quality

of the marketing support.

The London 2012 Festival was always going

to be a curious, eclectic and diverse mix. It was

made up of a number of original commissioned

projects, coupled with existing projects from other

cultural institutions.

The Festival looked to link the diversity of events

through three broad themes that would be

representative of the work on offer:

Quality, Accessibility and Ambition.

Quality, would define the choice of artists (the

world’s best) and the choice of commissions (once

in a lifetime events). Accessibility, was defined as

ideally ‘Free’ and ‘Near you’. In the case of ‘free’,

this was not universal but ‘near you’, did come to

represent the Festival. Ambition, was represented

by having art in unusual places, allied to

commissions that had the audience ‘wow’ factor.

THE FESTIVAL

LOOKED TO LINK

THE DIVERSITY

OF EVENTS

THROUGH THREE

BROAD THEMES

THAT WOULD BE

REPRESENTATIVE

OF THE WORK ON

OFFER: QUALITY,

ACCESSIBILITY

AND AMBITION

The three tiered strategic framework for the

Festival’s creative output had been decided.

Would audiences understand and piece it

all together?

Hundreds of events were included: From the large

to small, from national to local. All the various art

forms were included: film, theatre, dance, music

and the visual arts.

The Festival had a bit of everything and ensuring

audiences would make sense of it all would be a

marketing and branding task.

The breadth, diversity and sheer scale

represented a challenge for marketing. Not

everything could receive marketing support.

The team would have to make choices regarding

events to aggressively support and those to

passively support. What they chose would define

the Festival for the public and hopefully generate

the required copious column inches of publicity.

To be a marketing success the Festival would

need to:

1. Focus the marketing on a limited number

of products.

2. Work closely with cultural institutions

and piggy back their marketing.

3. Create a strong visual identity and brand

to unify the programme.


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 09

Which events should the

Festival market?

The baseline was that all events would be

supported through the London 2012 Festival

Digital Listings. From a marketing point of view,

this is important but is a hygiene factor.

Choosing the right events to actively support

(in addition to listings) was always going to be

a difficult choice. It would determine whether the

Festival would achieve critical mass and have

a place in the public consciousness.

The marketing team needed events that would

drive momentum and press coverage create

public interest and push the new found audience

to the website to seek further information on

other events.

This needed to happen on a regular basis in the

run up to the Festival and during the full length

of the Festival.

It started with a bang in November 2011 with

the launch of the 12 Olympic and Paralympic

Posters created by 12 UK artists and launched

in the Duveens gallery at Tate Britain.

The press interest was extraordinary, an insane

scrum of photographers and journalists looking

to interview the artists and photograph their work.

There was widespread media coverage and for

the most part it was largely positive.

True to form, the Daily Mail were less than

impressed – their online edition opened with

the following headline:

‘A splodge of blue paint and coffee cup rings…

Infant school art? No posters for the London

Olympics” (4/11/11)

In contrast the Guardian was a little more

generous in their view of the posters …

’London 2012 Olympic posters bring the best

out of BritArt’.

It didn’t really matter what a few journalists and

art critics thought of the posters. From a marketing

point of view, the London 2012 Festival was well

and truly launched.

I attended the unveiling of the posters. I was

surprised by the phenomenal coverage it generated.

This was the moment when I thought it might

end up being as big as the organisers hoped.

David Beckham and an entire naked England

football squad prancing through Tate would

not have generated more press.

IT STARTED

WITH A BANG

IN NOVEMBER

2011 WITH THE

LAUNCH OF THE

12 OLYMPIC AND

PARALYMPIC

POSTERS CREATED

BY 12 UK ARTISTS

AND LAUNCHED

IN THE DUVEENS

GALLERY AT TATE

BRITAIN

This was a textbook marketing and PR launch.

The Festival continued the strategy of picking

particular events, marketing them fully and

maintaining public interest on a broad scale.

By and large, the right events were chosen.

The Olympic Torch relay was the breakthrough

event that brought the Olympics into the nation’s

high streets. It was a remarkable event in its

primary capacity, as a countdown to the sporting

games, but also in capturing the nation’s mood.

Much has been written about the torch relay and

there is little new to add to the debate. It clearly

worked on an unprecedented level.

A number of events commissioned by the Festival

brought it to life on a national scale. This was

marketing in how to keep a long running festival,

with limited budgets, alive in the public arena and

part of general discourse.

Two events in particular stood out for me, though

there are numerous others about which I could

have written. There is much to learn from the

experience of both events that can be applied

to the future marketing of festivals and arts

marketing in general.

Each was unique and had never been

done before.

They were participative, free and simply

wonderful ideas.

Each benefited from the oxygen of publicity and

mass engagement arising from successful

media partnerships.

Starting with the Africa Express project, a train

full of Western and African musicians fronted by

Damon Albarn criss-crossing the country playing

a series of organised and impromptu concerts

around the country. The concerts took place on

the train, in schools, on train stations, in clubs and

music venues.

Nothing like this had ever been attempted before.

Concerts on the train itself, on platforms and in

primary schools. It seemed that Damon Albarn

and his bunch of troubadors could turn up

anywhere at anytime. Their infectious joy and

brilliant music kept journalists and a nation

enthralled for the best part of a week.

Rolling hourly and daily updates on the Guardian

music website let the audience follow the train’s

progress and the musicians in real time.


10

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

MARTIN CREED’S

BELL RINGING

(WORK 1197) ON

THE 27TH JULY AT

TWELVE MINUTES

PAST EIGHT WAS

ONE OF THOSE

MOMENTS WHEN

THE ORGANIZERS

OF THE FESTIVAL

MUST HAVE HELD

THEIR COLLECTIVE

BREATHS

Martin Creed’s Bell Ringing (Work 1197) on the

27th July at twelve minutes past eight was one of

those moments when the organizers of the Festival

must have held their collective breaths. This

particular artistic intervention was high risk.

a) Would people do it?

b) How would they react having done it?

They need not have worried. At the agreed

moment, prompted by the Today show on BBC

Radio 4, the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2,

BBC Breakfast on Radio 1 and every local BBC

radio station, the sonorous chimes of Big Ben, the

streets across the nation were full of people of all

ages ringing their bike bells/ phone bells/ church

bells/ door bells in fact any bell they could get

hold of.

It was such an audacious event that it brought a

smile to the faces of all who rang a bell and just

enough shame to those who were too cynical

to bother.

This was an artistic flash mob of stupendous

proportions supported by the BBC without whose

contribution it is doubtful the intervention would

have worked as well as it did.

Work 1197, turned out to be mass participative

culture at its best capturing the hearts and minds

of those who participated.

People who rang the bells will remember where

they were when they did it. Those who did not

participate would have been made to feel part

of it through the extensive live coverage on the

many BBC platforms. In this instance, Work 1197

is an excellent example of how to maximize

mutual benefits from a media partnership.

The whole thing was absurd, fun and truly

memorable, and for many, one of the highlights

of the Festival.

Whilst this was not conceived as a marketing

campaign, it was a work of art allied to a brilliant

marketing and PR campaign and it certainly

captured the mood.

No mean feat for an artistic intervention.

The London 2012 Festival had the content, the

programme, the events. The core ingredients

required to make the Festival a success.

The challenge was to create a marketing

campaign that would not only continue to

enhance and amplify the content but also

leverage the programme and leave a lasting

memory of the Festival.

How to brand London

2012 Festival?

The relationship between marketing, branding

and arts organisations is complicated. At best it

is viewed as core to the success of an institution

but at worst it is seen as an unwelcome necessity,

something to be tolerated rather than embraced.

The Festival approach was rightly, to build a

strong and immediately recognisable brand.

Getting the branding right was important for

three reasons.

1. Strong visual branding would act as the glue

that links the diversity of the culture on offer

in the minds of the prospective audiences.

2. Distinctive branding would link the Festival

to the Olympic games whilst giving it a

distinctive look and feel

3. Engaging branding would develop an

emotional response from the audience

to the Festival.


Version 2.0

© The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited 2011

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 11

London 2012 Festival

Brand guidelines

for Partners

The branding was very distinctive and highly

visible. The pink ribbon and fuschia color was

omnipresent and when applied to an event

indicated it was part of the Festival.

The branding guidebook issued to all Festival

partners was an instruction manual on how to

use the brand logo. It operated as a ‘kit of parts’

allowing for flexibility in the use of the marque.

This was particularly important for events that

were ‘badged’ rather than commissioned by

the Festival. Examples included Freud at the

National Portrait Gallery, Hirst at Tate Modern,

The Hackney Weekend and a host of others.

The Festival had NO jurisdiction over how

these events were planned or executed, but

branding offered a simple coherent means of

ensuring that they could be seen as part of the

Festival, without causing undue creative or

commercial interference.

The branding allowed for many events to be

easily included in the ’big tent of culture’ that

was the London 2012 Festival.

From an audience perspective this only

enhanced the reality that despite having

London in the title, the London 2012 Festival

was UK-wide comprising events big and small

across multiple arts.

This created a virtuous circle in which the events

would benefit from the association with the

Festival. In turn, the Festival would benefit from

the association with some of the UK’s key

cultural events.

When the Olympic London 2012 logo/marque

was initially launched there was outrage from the

media. This was an entirely predictable response.

New logos are almost universally disliked when

they make their first public outing. It takes time

to be embed them into the public consciousness.

Media commentators rarely have that time and in

this case most of them got it wrong.

On reflection the logo and branding of the main

Olympics in London was fully integrated into the

London Olympics and despite the initial criticism

was a success. The London 2012 Festival took a

version of the main Olympic logo and adopted

it, positioning the Festival as a recognisable and

close relative to the main event.

Technically and from a functional point of view,

branding worked very efficiently. It did not

however connect on an emotional level with

audiences and this was a disappointment.


12

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

Marketing is more than a logo

The truly great cultural festivals do connect

emotionally with their audience. Think of

Glastonbury, The Manchester International

Festival, Hay. They are all examples of festivals

that connect emotionally with their audiences and

in each case they are bigger than the programme

of which they are made up.

Audiences recognised the London 2012

Festival marque and attended the events in their

droves but it is not clear that they understood

why the festival existed and what it was meant

to represent.

At some point, the really great brands in all

categories connect emotionally with their

audience. They mean something to them and

conjure up various associations, meanings

and emotions.

The Festival never clearly built a narrative that

sought to answer why it existed. It just seemed

to be there as a part of the Olympics.

This was a missed opportunity and led to a

scenario where audiences connected with the

events, but did not connect with the Festival itself.

The sum of the many parts of the Festival

programme did not add up to a bigger more

meaningful Festival. The programme became a

very loosely linked federation of unrelated events.

The story behind why a cultural Olympic Festival

exists in the first place is an interesting one that

could have been told. The wider role of the

Festival 2012 branding and marketing should

have been to tell that story.

Failing to land a narrative to support the logo

and the marketing of the Festival, limited the

role of branding to a simple vehicle created to

carry the festival, rather than a meaningful prism

through which to view it.

Some may argue this does not matter and the

sheer numbers of people who attended the

multiple events is success enough. This is a valid

point but a short term perspective offering little

in the way of creating a cultural legacy for

the Festival.


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 13

How to market London

2012 Festival?

The Festival was attempting to ‘make culture a key

part of the celebration’ and looking to coax the

public to ‘Get into the 2012 spirit at the London

2012 Festival’.

Initially, awareness of the Festival was a key

objective but generating high levels of awareness

is often an expensive exercise.

With limited funds for awareness generation,

the Festival rightly identified a combination of PR,

media partnerships and the piggy backing

of partners’ marketing programmes to achieve

this objective.

The Festival made excellent use of series of media

partnerships that ensured widespread media

coverage of the Festival as a whole as well as the

individual events. Both the Daily Telegraph and

the BBC delivered regular feeds from the Festival.

The Telegraph delivered a version of the official

brochure to its readers that will have been kept by

many homes as a reference tool. As the official

Olympic broadcaster the BBC appropriately

made constant reference to or covered the events.

Other media, particularly The Guardian and C4

in their capacity as event (rather than Festival)

media partners, also delivered the message to

broad constituencies.

Despite the trending obsession (correctly so) in

marketing toward everything going digital there

remains a role for the printed media. The Festival

team could have decided to use digital only, they

correctly chose not to.

The official guide to the London 2012 Festival

was a comprehensive 140 page brochure that

introduced the Festival and acted as a printed

‘souvenir brochure’ and comprehensive guide to

the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of the events.

Around the UK, half a million brochures were

distributed. Each brochure will have been an

important communication strand in delivering the

Festival into the homes of prospective audiences.

The use of digital and social media was

widespread. In addition to the digital listings

there were digital marketing campaigns and the

2012 Join In App both of which brought new

audiences to the festival and on to the festival’s

cultural partners.

The use of digital was somewhat limited to event

promotion. In future Olympic festivals, greater

use of social media could be developed around

generating conversations between artists and

audiences and between audiences.

The use of social media continued to drive new

audiences and discussion about the Festival. In

some instances it almost became a seamless part

of the event. For the ‘Bells’, the Streb ‘jumpers’

and the Piccadilly Circus ‘Circus’ the use of social

media became an integral part of the promotion

as well as the participation.


14

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

For Stockhausen in Birmingham, even the police

got involved in social media around the event.

This tweet from the local Birmingham police was

a festival Tweet of the day;

“There will be helicopters hovering over the

city centre shortly. Nothing to worry about,

rehearsal for a unique opera..” @brumpolice

Building on the awareness generated, the

objective of the marketing was to drive

audiences to the 2012 Festival digital listings

site. The site carried information on all the

events and acted as the definitive space for

information, participation and critically

ticket sales.

The site was a strong component of the overall

marketing push allowing audiences to search

by postcode, genre, partners and events.

Functionally the listings site worked well but

suffered the same shortcomings as the branding

in failing to build a narrative for the festival.

As with the branding, what was missing

from the marketing campaign was a strand

of communication explaining the reason for

the Festival.

The lack of narrative was also reflected in the

paid for marketing posters for the 2012 Festival.

Paid for advertising could have been the vehicle

to tell the Festival story but instead the advertising

proclaimed a much simper message.

“The London 2012 Festival is coming your way.

Get wrapped in the celebrations. Plan your

events at www.london2012.com/festival”.

The second wave of advertising tried to use the

programme highlights to drive interest but again

the opportunity to drive emotional engagement

with the audiences around the Festival narrative

was lost.

As with the other elements of the marketing mix

the advertising failed to introduce the festival

or explain what it is and why it existed. Instead

simply choosing to proclaim the simpler message

that the festival was ‘coming your way’.

This was the missing link in an otherwise well

marketed Festival.

FOR STOCKHAUSEN

IN BIRMINGHAM,

EVEN THE POLICE

GOT INVOLVED

IN SOCIAL MEDIA

AROUND THE EVENT


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 15

Summary and Conclusions

The London 2012 Festival was an amazing

collaboration of cultural events across all

genres of culture. The numbers that got involved

exceeded the expectations of the organizing

committee. It was undoubtedly part of a

memorable summer of sport and culture one that

is unlikely to be repeated for many decades.

It was in many respects an extraordinary

achievement made even more remarkable as we

head to a period of difficult financial austerity for

the arts. It is unlikely we will see an investment in

culture on such a scale for many years to come.

The importance of culture both economically and

socially has long been embedded in the fabric of

our country. This was illustrated emphatically by

the dominance of culture in the Olympic games

opening games ceremony.

The public will remember the culture represented

in the Olympic opening ceremony very vividly

not just because it was the opening ceremony but

because of the way the story was told. A clear

narrative underpinned the ceremony.

The numbers do not lie. Vast swathes of the UK

population and tourists visiting the UK for that

incredible summer in some way experienced

the London 2012 Festival.

However, much as they may have enjoyed the

event they were attending my lasting impression

is that they were unaware they were participating

in a festival!

Six months on from the end of London 2012

many people look at you blankly when you ask

them about the London 2012 Festival. They

remember the Olympics clearly but are little

fuzzier about the cultural festival.

But, when you ask about the cultural events that

comprised the Festival they remember them

well and with much affection. Therein lay the

marketing dilemma, a gap for the festival’s

communications and a challenge that

marketing should have solved.

THE NUMBERS

DO NOT LIE. VAST

SWATHES OF THE

UK POPULATION

AND TOURISTS

VISITING THE

UK FOR THAT

INCREDIBLE

SUMMER IN SOME

WAY EXPERIENCED

THE LONDON

2012 FESTIVAL

To some, my criticism of some aspects of the

London 2012 Festival marketing may seem a

little harsh. In many respects the marketing played

its part in ensuring that the festival achieved its

five key objectives.

1. Culture WAS an integral part of the

greatest show on earth;

2. The cultural experiences WILL be

remembered for a lifetime;

3. The UK’s Cultural and Creative industries

WERE enjoyed by new audiences;

4. The eyes of the world WERE enthralled

by UK’s cultural offer;

5. More than twice as many EXPERIENCED the

London 2012 Festival as had been planned;

The London 2012 Festival brought so much

culture and fun to the people of the UK in Olympic

year. The failure to support the festival with a

strong narrative told through marketing and

branding limited the public understanding of why

the festival existed and what it was attempting to

achieve beyond the short term.

Had this been achieved the festival would have

resonated far beyond its duration and created the

foundations for a long term cultural legacy.

That legacy is to firmly establish a deep seated

sense of the importance and value of culture to

our society as a whole. In my view the London

2012 Festival went a long way, but not quite all

the way to fulfilling this remit.

It was always going to be a tough brief!


16

Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands

LONDON

2012

festIVAL

Michael Coveney


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 17

The opening of the London 2012 Festival was on

Midsummer’s Day, Thursday 21 June, and not

one of the four big opening events happened in

London. Right from the off, the festival achieved

“a sort of noise” according to Munira Mirza,

deputy mayor of the capital with the education

and culture brief, but this was also a national

celebration with recognition abroad, a clear

political priority in the Olympic Year.

There was a firework spectacular at Bowness-on-

Windermere in the Lake District; a Peace One

Day concert held, poignantly, in the old army

barracks in Londonderry, supported by Jude Law

(crucial, in this context, to remember that Derry

is the UK City of Culture this year); the British

premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s spiritually didactic

Weltethos (“global ethos”) in Birmingham,

our second city; and an open air concert in a

field near a housing estate in Stirling featuring

hundreds of local children and Gustavo Dudamel

conducting his own Simón Bolivar orchestra

from Venezuela with characteristic panache

and exuberance.

I watched the latter broadcast live on BBC 4,

and in many ways the event put muscle on the

laudable if vaguely theoretical notions of peace

and love driving the festival -- the Olympic Games

were always held at a time of truce between

warring nations: here was audience involvement,

education, outreach, great art and the feelgood

factor all wrapped up in one powerful,

unpretentious package.

Dudamel’s orchestra, and the El Sistema project

of which it is part, is nothing if not inspirational.

Their Proms performance a few years ago

was simply the most exciting concert I’ve ever

attended. Here, they defied the elements – the

crowd was standing in the pouring rain, clad

in cagoules, holding umbrellas, in the shadow

of Stirling Castle – and embraced the small

community of Raploch.

THIS WAS ALSO

A NATIONAL

CELEBRATION

WITH

RECOGNITION

ABROAD A

CLEAR POLITICAL

PRIORITY IN

OLYMPIC YEAR


18

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

OUT OF A

POPULATION

OF 3,000, NO

LESS THAN 450

CHILDREN UNDER

THE AGE OF

TWELVE HAD BEEN

PRACTISING ON

THEIR MUSICAL

INSTRUMENTS,

FOUR NIGHTS A

WEEK, IN THE FIRST

UK BRANCH OF EL

SISTEMA

Out of a population of 3,000, no less than

450 children under the age of twelve had been

practising on their musical instruments, four

nights a week, in the first UK branch of El Sistema,

formed four years ago, and called “Big Noise”.

Dudamel had worked with them for a week, and

conducted a charmingly doughty but dissonant

performance of Purcell’s rondo from Abdelazar

(used by Benjamin Britten as the opening theme of

his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra).

The great thing here was not the performance

itself but what it both meant and symbolised:

starting out, discovering music, having a go,

and joining the top table at the same time.

Brilliant. Even more importantly, the “Big Noise”

initiative having an immediate effect, with new

money found in Scotland to extend the project

into Glasgow, reflecting three pilot schemes

elsewhere in the UK chaired by Julian Lloyd

Webber under the “In Harmony” banner (in

Liverpool, Southwark/Lambeth and Norwich).

A selection of the youngsters were now dotted

among the Simon Bolivar players, like so

many sorcerers’ little apprentices, for a brave

and stirring performance of Beethoven’s

Overture Egmont. And the concert climaxed

with Dudamel whipping his forces through the

Eroica Symphony, followed by an irresistible,

barnstorming piece of the Argentinian composer,

Alberto Ginastera, with the band swaying,

standing, waving and twirling their instruments

and finally throwing their Venezuelan ponchos

into the crowd.

It is harder to assess the London 2012 Festival in

artistic terms than it is the degree of triumph in the

sporting arena, but this was a sensational piece

of party planning. In athletics, you either win

a race or you don’t, jump higher or lower than

your competitors. In the arts, and especially in a

city as permanently en fête as London, you might

always be hard-pressed to notice anything much

different, or more than usually good, going on in

our concert halls and theatres. But in Raploch that

night, something extraordinary was happening.

I experienced a similar feeling over the following

weeks in theatre foyers, on Rosebery Avenue

outside Sadler’s Wells during the Pina Bausch

season, in Enniskillen. In many ways, the

London 2012 Festival, which ran for just over

eleven weeks through to 9 September, took

up the renewed national spirit of the earliest

days of 2012 – it already seems so long ago

– when the Olympic torch was carried through

our cities, towns and countryside by every

possible representative of our communities.

Social inclusion and participation were key:

eighty per cent of the London 2012 Festival

programme was free to everyone, and staged

in urban spaces, on remote coastal cliff tops, in

city squares, old factories, the great Turbine hall

of the Tate Modern (artist Tino Sehgal received

his largest budget ever for his daily three-month

divertissement of seventy paid volunteers

swooping up and down the hall, singing and

dancing), a park in Hackney, along the Thames,

in small galleries, on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

25,000 artists from all 204 Olympic Games

countries took part in more than 13,000 events

in over 1,200 places around the country; for

while much of London 2012 Festival was about

reacquainting Londoners with their own city, and

their own culture – Mark Rylance and his merry

band of actors popping up on street corners all

over town to recite a Shakespeare sonnet or

speech caught the essence of it -- the project also

rolled out through the entire nation.

As with the Olympics themselves, there were times

early on when the Cultural Olympiad seemed


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 19

riven with uncertainty and doomed to failure.

Our national gift for scepticism was soon running

riot when nothing seemed to be going to plan

(and, then again, what plan?), the budget for

the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was trebled

overnight, ticket sales and security arrangements

looked wobbly…and Ruth Mackenzie launched

the idea of London 2012 Festival rather late in

the day (taking up her appointment after the

departure of Keith Khan). Exhibitions such as the

Lucian Freud and David Hockney retrospectives

had already been planned, but Mackenzie asked

for them to be part of the newly born festival;

so, some events were created from scratch,

others invited into the festival. Mackenzie also

sharpened up the performing arts side of things,

and happily embraced the political objectives

of both the mayor, Boris Johnson, who was keen

to emphasise and create a sense of national

celebration (and not just as a counter-balance to

the ugly terrorist bombings on the very day after

the Olympic bid was announced as successful,

in July 2005, or to prove we were seriously back

in business after the riots of August 2011); and

of Justine Simons, the mayor’s head of culture

who helped fix an exciting animation of the

outdoor landscape across no less than thirtythree

boroughs.

To this end, Simons’ headquarters became, in

effect, a production office, negotiating all the

logistical arrangements necessary for

Elizabeth Streb’s lycra-clad dancers to fly


20

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

25,000 ARTISTS

FROM ALL 204

OLYMPIC GAMES

COUNTRIES TOOK

PART IN MORE

THAN 12,000

EVENTS IN OVER

900 PLACES

AROUND THE

COUNTRY

around the London Eye; or for six stages along

the Thames, from Battersea Park to Greenwich

and Docklands, to be occupied by the likes of

the Kronos Quartet, the Scissor Sisters and

Wynton Marsalis for the BT River of Music;

or for a ton of white feathers to be released

at night, unannounced (except on social

media, an essential element in this event),

in Piccadilly Circus.

By sticking its nose in everywhere, even when

not paying for the privilege (the relatively small

budget, starting at £16m but increasing to

£63m by the end meant that nothing much

happened without sponsors and collaboration),

the London 2012 Festival risked appearing like

an executive pariah clothed in a false sheen of

benevolent intervention.

And yet, as well as the profusion of jump-up-andjoin-in

outdoor events, there were big broad

brush statements that helped define our cultural

life just a little more intensely, and here you did

feel the input of an artistic policy statement: the

Barbican programme, the Pina Bausch season,

the Deborah Warner Peace Camp project; these

installations of softly glowing tents, with poetry

spoken by Fiona Shaw and other prominent

actors in eight remote coastal spots impressed the

New York Times as “refugee camps in heaven.”

Peace Camp was struck around the edge of the

nation over one weekend in late July: on beaches

in Northern Ireland and East Sussex, on the tiny

rock of Godrevy in Cornwall, in the shadow of

a ruined castle in Northumberland, on the Isle of

Lewis on the north eastern shoulder of Scotland,

in a large bay in Anglesey…from twilight to

dawn, a battalion of five-foot high illuminated

pods, ten feet in circumference, sinister and

sensual, formed, in theory at least, a poetic

response to the United Nation’s call for a worldwide

laying down of arms during the Olympics.

The project was conceived, location-scouted

and carried through by Warner, Fiona Shaw

and the outdoor spectacle specialists Artichoke,

who produced the astonishing, ground-breaking

London appearance of The Sultan’s Elephant


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 21

(created by the French outfit Royal de Luxe) in the

summer of 2006. Each tent was fuelled by a small

car battery, all of them run off an electric light and

audio system activated from the fringe of each

site. The effect was magical, beguiling, unreal.

As one of the chief direct commissions of the

London 2012 Festival, Peace Camp seemed

to express, like the opening concerts, exactly

the ambitions for the festival held by artists and

politicians alike, combining elements of formality,

spontaneity and accessibility (as long as you

made the effort to go there) that challenged then

shooed away all fast-fading residual notions of

elitism, expense and indoor middle-class stuffiness

in the arts. There was a parallel, UK-wide schools

poetry project, An InTents Moment, in which seven

of the schools’ pop-up poetry tents appeared on

the South Bank on National Poetry Day Live.

This coincided with Southbank Centre artistic

director Jude Kelly’s four-month Festival of

the World (to mark the Olympics) which also

contained two major projects that, she says, could

not have been achieved without London 2012

Festival: the Poetry Parnassus curated by Simon

Armitage, now generally recognised as a highly

significant ecumenical moment for international

poetry; and the culmination of the UK-wide

Unlimited programme of deaf and disabled artists

which, like the Paralympic Games themselves,

argues Kelly, went way beyond cultural boxticking

to establish genuine appreciation of

UNLIMITED

WAS SET UP

BY LONDON 2012,

BRITISH COUNCIL,

ACE AND THE

ARTS COUNCILS

OF WALES,

NORTHERN

IRELAND AND

CREATIVE

SCOTLAND AND

WAS THE LARGEST

COMMISSIONING

FUND FOR

DISABLED AND

DEAF ARTISTS EVER

ANYWHERE IN

THE WORLD

“world class art.” Unlimited was set up by

London 2012, British Council, ACE and the

Arts Councils of Wales, Northern Ireland

and Creative Scotland and was the largest

commissioning fund for disabled and deaf

artists ever anywhere in the world.

A similar Olympian juxtaposition of artistry

was evident in 2012’s film programme of

commissions ranging from Mike Leigh’s colourful,

quirky 34-minute short, A Running Jump – in

which the mate of a South London cabbie (and

Millwall supporter) sold a duff second-hand car

to a gullible customer, and the salesman’s twin

daughters bickered over what to wear on a night

out to the pub where they were simply engulfed

in football chat -- to Sue Austin’s beautiful, eightminute

coupling (on the Unlimited programme) of

a self-propelled underwater wheelchair exploring

a coral reef and finding the Olympic torch in

a cave-like recess before spiralling upwards

towards the burning sun. More dynamically,

perhaps, Lynne Ramsay’s black and white

Swimmer was a strange, night-time odyssey of a

lone swimmer burrowing along rivers populated

by stray children (distinct echoes of Lord of the

Flies and Peter Pan), while Max & Dania’s What If

charted the salvation of a rough-edged boy on a

council estate through poetry (Rudyard Kipling’s If)

and the intervention of a guiding angel played by

Noel Clarke.


22

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

The Unlimited film programme also included

Helen Petts’s fascinatingly incomprehensible

half-hour study of Kurt Schwitters in his remote

working hut, unleashing the camera on lush vistas

in Norway and the Lake District, while the artist

chiselled viciously away at his collages and was

seen at the end performing one of his peculiar

sound poems to the percussive accompaniment

of paint brushes and strips of wire. Slighter and

infinitely more charming – and bang on the

money, if a little too obviously with regard to the

Olympic Games theme of social integration -- was

Joel Simon’s Macropolis in which two disabled

animated clay toys (a cat with only one eye, a

dog with a peg leg) pursued a toy van through

the real urban environment of Belfast before

taking their rightful place on the shelf in a shop,

alongside the “perfect” packaged samples of

their species. A small boy entered the shop with

Festival (although there was a definite helpful

“push” from Ruth Mackenzie for the Blanchett).

Both were modernist avant-garde works, hugely

renowned, dating from the mid-1970s, and

while neither really felt in performance as though

they were necessarily all that vieux chapeau in

avant-garde terms, you could more easily argue

that this was an establishment-élitist statement

of what constituted the best in contemporary

theatre. Especially with the first: feeling at ease

with alienation was such fun with Cate Blanchett

leading the Sydney Theatre Company in a new

version by Martin Crimp of a play that was actually

produced in the West End in 1983 with Glenda

Jackson in the lead. Like Jackson in her time,

Blanchett as Lotte, a graphic designer all at sea in

modern Germany, is a truly great actor, on stage as

well as on screen, a thoroughbred hunting horse,

whinnying at the start and leaping the hurdles with

his mother and was given one of the packets. But

he wanted the imperfect cat and dog, and set off

happily with his new purchase, the animals cosily

ensconced in his knapsack. The programme won

three BAFTAs, including one for Lynne Ramsay

and one for Joel Simon (an Irish BAFTA).

In a spirit of “before” the Lord Mayor’s Show,

as opposed to after it, and therefore too late,

April was a “count-down” month, with a

weekend on the South Bank devoted to a major

retrospective of the music of George Benjamin

– a clear declaration of faith in this elusive,

finical, sometimes difficult but always rewarding

composer – followed by two great blasts at the

Barbican: Cate Blanchett in a German classic,

Botho Strauss’s Big and Small, quickly followed

by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s famous

opera Einstein on the Beach, here receiving its

British premiere.

Both of these productions, certainly the Robert

Wilson, performed with artists you might expect

to see at the Barbican as a matter of course,

would have happened, confirms Louise Jeffreys,

director of programming, without London 2012

grace and beauty throughout a show that made

visual and verbal poetry of the plight of disoriented

victim and social misfit pushed from pillar to post.

Blanchett cut a figure as fleshy, sinewy and aghast

as a Lucian Freud painting in an illuminated

telephone box, and as physically sensual, and

wonderfully expressive, as a Pina Bausch dancer

in madly declaiming that she was determined to

save the world. But saving the world from what?

More plays by Botho Strauss, perhaps. You

couldn’t really believe that these versatile and

likeable Australian actors had all that much in

common with downtown Essen or wherever, nor

did Crimp’s translation succeed in making the

crises and mishaps seem like a play for today.

Despite the slick ingenuity of Benedict Andrews’s

production and a design by Johannes Schütz that

whisked us from a hotel lobby in Morocco to a

stairwell in a block of Teutonic flats where Lotte

continued not making connections, and an office

where she played secretarial second fiddle to a

new boyfriend by dancing all over his paperwork,

much of it seemed just a little, just ever so slightly,

like cold potatoes.


Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands 23

Everyone had

agreed since

2008 that

Shakespeare

was the big

cheese of

the Cultural

Olympiad

But who could gainsay the prominence of Robert

Wilson in the London 2012 Festival? He led a

walking tour along a Norfolk beach, supervised

the re-staging of Einstein – and chivvied us along

merrily when the scenery got stuck on the opening

night – and then delivered an astonishing solo

performance in Krapp’s Last Tape in Enniskillen.

There’s simply no-one else like him, or half as

expensive, in world theatre, so it was clever of the

London 2012 Festival to make it look as though

he was all theirs! Beautiful, nostalgic, infuriating:

the British premiere of the five-hour Einstein on

the Beach was a genuine “festival” occasion:

a delayed start, technical hiccups, Bianca

Jagger in the front stalls, the audience invited to

come and go as they please. Normally, scenic

glitches would not matter too much, but as this

1976 piece is all about aesthetics -- in a way that

simply nothing else in our theatre today ever is

-- the wobbly scenery, too-visible stage managers

(palpably not choreographed by Lucinda Childs)

and failure of the flying arrangements, the

evening was seriously marred.

Anyway, Wilson beamed away and thanked

us for coming: “Fasten your seat belts and have

fun.” The lighting, too, was slightly affected by the

technical problems, but some of it was stunning,

as were the two great set dance pieces by Childs

-- with a pang you realised how far in advance

this choreography was of both Pina Bausch and

Mark Morris -- as well as the plangent playing

and rapidly articulated singing of the Philip Glass

ensemble in the pit, and in the courtroom scene.

Only at one point did the circular repetitiousness

of Glass’s score become a little trying, and that

was during a really rather rubbish organ solo

as a white strip of lighting was slowly hoist into

the vertical plane and Rupert Christiansen of the

Daily Telegraph responded by ostentatiously

holding his head in his hands in despair.

Otherwise, the disjointed text, the beautifully

composed images, the touchingly extravagant

low-tech scenery of a night train, a moon,

a virtuoso violinist Einstein in a big scraggy

wig, the mathematical precision and allegory

of it all, the stunning finale (even without the

flying) of an atomic nuclear factory manned by

automatons and lit by a thousand blazing bulbs

-- all came momentously together, nearly. The

strange, jagged concrete poetry was written by

Christopher Knowles, whom I first saw at work

with Wilson at a festival in Shiraz, Iran, in the

pre-revolutionary mid-1970s. (Critics like myself

who accepted invitations to Shiraz, were accused

by Arnold Wesker of “propping up the Shah’s

regime”; if only we’d propped it up even more!)


24

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

Wilson and Glass took a curtain call on opening

night to a rapturous reception and standing

ovation. Partly this was to do with the great

enthusiasm for Glass these days --

his Ghandi opera, Satyagraha, which he wrote

almost directly after Einstein, was a massive

hit at the ENO recently (although it drove

me nuts); but mainly, I think, it was a belated

British acknowledgment of two supreme artistic

innovators, now in their seventies, who both

created work that is unrivalled in our theatre

today, and who continue to exert a

massive influence.

Everyone had agreed since 2008 that

Shakespeare was the big cheese of the Cultural

Olympiad, the over-arching dramatic poet of our

nation and the outer ring of a Venn diagram that

contained the Royal Shakespeare Company’s

World Shakespeare Festival and, within that,

the Globe to Globe project at Shakespeare’s

Globe. In the event, the RSC came up with a

pretty tame “What Country Friends Is This?”

trilogy (The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night

and The Tempest, all featuring shipwrecks

and riven relationships) which oscillated

confusingly between Stratford-upon-Avon and

the Roundhouse in London, and a tremendous allblack

Julius Caesar directed by Gregory Doran.

There was also, on paper at least, a fascinating

collaboration between the RSC and the Wooster

Group in New York on Troilus and Cressida,

the Americans playing the besieged, chivalric

Trojans and the RSC mob the pragmatic, deceitful

Greeks. This may have been thrown off course

by Rupert Goold withdrawing from the RSC end

due to a film commitment (he was succeeded

by playwright Mark Ravenhill, a novice

Shakespearean director) but the critical reactions

were mostly scathing, though the Telegraph had

kind words for the intelligence of the concept and

Ruth Mackenzie herself ruefully remarked that

British critics had become too accustomed to

RSC shouting.

The more I read about this Troilus, the more sorry

I was that I’d missed it, despite Michael Billington

in The Guardian saying that it was simply the

worst production of anything he had ever seen

at Stratford (and he goes back to Laurence

Olivier’s Coriolanus!). Usually, nothing but good

comes from releasing these great plays into other

cultures and languages, as was triumphantly

proved by the Globe to Globe season; maybe

the RSC had shot its bolt in its Complete Works

festival which ran for a year from April 2007.

Playing Troilus was the outstanding Scott

Shepherd who, earlier in the year, had led

the Elevator Repair Company of New York in

Gatz, presented by LIFT in the London 2012

SIMON RUSSELL

BEALE PLAYED

TIMON AS A

SUITED FAT CAT

MOVING LIKE

AN OIL SLICK

THROUGH HIS

OWN ART GALLERY

Festival’s “warm-up” period. In this eight-hour

“reading” of The Great Gatsby at the Noël

Coward Theatre, Nick, a listless office worker,

book-in-hand for all except the last enraptured,

reflective forty minutes, became Scott Fitzgerald’s

ambivalent narrator Nick Carraway, who works

in New York’s financial district in the 1920s and

becomes embroiled in Jay Gatsby’s hedonistic

Long Island lifestyle and his obsession with Daisy

Buchanan. John Collins’s production arrived

trailing all sorts of recommendations for its radical

austerity, but struck me as failing to have any

interesting attitude to its material, to be lazily

engineered in the modern dowdy office setting,

and to be deeply non-theatrical. The same was

not true of a much sharper distillation of Ernest

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which the

ERS brought to the Edinburgh Festival in 2008.

The stage was deliberately under-energised, as

if to place Fitzgerald’s silvery, glistening prose

in ironic relief. But the effect was the opposite.

The enervating tedium of the office set-up was

disastrously contagious, and the acting dull,

with Manhattan street sounds mingling with jazz

age party noise and screeching car tyres on a

soundtrack operated in full view by one of the

actors at the side of the stage.

Certain descriptive stretches, such as the first sight

of Gatsby’s illuminated mansion, or of the party

drunk who declares, astonished, that all the books

in Jay’s library are real, or the proximity of Daisy’s

green light burning at the end of her dock across

the bay, sat up effectively; and no film adaptation

will ever include Nick’s confession that his

underwear is climbing around his legs like a wet

snake on a blazingly hot New York afternoon.

Nick’s girlfriend, the golf champion Jordan Baker,

thrice described as “jaunty,” was pertly played by

Susie Sokol, though the parallel contrast between

her relationship with Nick and that of Jay and

Daisy, which could have been more theatrically

charged, was left hanging. But I did like the

desolate melancholy of the outing to the Plaza

Hotel, with the characters stranded in a livid halflight

while the strains of Mendelssohn’s wedding

march seeped up through the floorboards.

There was no clinching dramatic statement of

how the enigmatic boss in the contemporary

office related to his alter ago, Gatsby, and the

framing stage metaphor was simply abandoned

in the rhapsodic adieus of the last pages. And

what could have been a surprise masterstroke,

the appearance of Jay’s father at the end, was

merely a crushing let-down, hide-bound by textual

fidelity and very poor acting. While my reaction

was a minority one, the show was at the very least

a useful contribution to the “adaptation” debate,

but next to Simon McBurney’s staging later in


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 25

the year of The Master and Margerita (at the

Barbican, but not part of the festival), it seemed

like a cop-out.

Even the failure of Troilus sounded more

interesting. There were obviously poor

productions, too, in Globe to Globe, but the

phenomenon of the event outstripped even the

individual triumphs. The Timon of Athens from

the Bremer Shakespeare Company in Bremen

was a particularly poignant occasion as this was

the first company to perform in the still unfinished

Globe in 1993, the year of founding director

Sam Wanamaker’s death after years of struggle

to get the theatre built; the Bremer performed

The Merry Wives of Windsor within the timber

bays of the incomplete auditorium, and their

leading actor, Norbert Kentrup, became a close

friend of Wanamaker. Timon was played not by

Kentrup but Michael Meyer, a name more usually

associated with the late great Ibsenite. Bremer’s

Meyer was an equally imposing character, but

more given to capering around in the nude than

his distinguished and learned namesake. His

Timon stripped off in the cave as he ate dirt and

rooted for gold in the earth after losing all his

money and all his friends.

I didn’t much like the production, which was

basically six cartoon characters in search of a

loofah, and a typically Teutonic exercise in heavyhanded

unfunny humour, romping through the

play in under two hours (including interval) and

cutting the text to ribbons; the great dialogues

between Timon and the general Alcibiades and

between Timon and Apemantus, the cynical

philosopher (played as a gurning clown), were

completely short-changed. This was a cheap and

cheerful touring theatre design and, as so often

in German productions, some very good actors

submitted to the tired old conceptual ruderies

of the director, Sebastian Kautz. It’s only fair

to say, though, that both Kautz and his small

cast received an ecstatic ovation at the end, as

every company did every night of the season.

Timon’s steward, Flavius, whizzed around on

a skateboard, lying flat. The two whores of

Alcibiades did a lot of offstage smacking and

groaning. The cast bounced around to Gloria

Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” (why?!) and Timon,

instead of uncovering dishes of warm water and

stones for his ungrateful guests, chucked huge

grey bricks at them and drenched them all (and

half the audience) with a garden hose.

London 2012 Festival did better by associating

itself with the National Theatre’s Timon of Athens

further along the Embankment; Simon Russell

Beale played Timon as a suited fat cat moving like

an oil slick through his own art gallery (there was

an El Greco of Christ driving out the merchants


26

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

in the temple): it was opening night for the

“Timon” room, and everyone wanted a piece of

him. Nicholas Hytner’s self-critical production

of Shakespeare’s “loneliest” play (though now

generally thought to be a collaboration with

Thomas Middleton) was, in fact, a mordant city

satire with a skyline including the HSBC building,

creditors coming to dinner in Fashion Week,

and cabinet ministers mingling with artists and

artisans while the malcontents and dispossessed

assembled in tents outside St Paul’s. When

Timon called in his favours, the world around

him shrank, and he served them one last meal

-- their own excrement (instead of dull stones);

and the next we saw of him was in a beanie and

Oxfam clothes pushing a supermarket trolley

piled high with plastic bags in a wilderness of

concrete stubs; he became a rallying point for the

Occupy London insurgency, whose tents offered

a more humdrum, political alternative to Deborah

Warner’s in Peace Camp.

The show had real meaning and application

for contemporary London in a way that nothing

in Globe to Globe could possibly have done;

Timon became a coruscating play for today in our

celebrity-obsessed, sponsorship-driven, politically

and amorally expedient, public-serviceindifferent

times. I make this point reluctantly

as Globe to Globe was doing a different sort

of job: in, for instance, a charming and truly

delightful Much Ado About Nothing in French,

and a Lithuanian Hamlet that has been one of

the most acclaimed Shakespearean productions

in Eastern Europe these past fifteen years, and

looked like it. Clement Poiree’s Compagnie

Hypermobile is one of several troupes based

in the Cartoucherie de Vincennes, on the edge

of Paris, home, too, to Ariana Mnouchkine’s

Theatre du Soleil. The fluent translation was easy

to follow, probably made easier by the fact that

seventy per cent of the play is written in prose

(only The Merry Wives has a higher percentage

of prose in relation to verse). The actors used the

stage extremely well, importing circular benches

around the two main pillars, thus creating extra

seats and perches for the “overheard” scenes of

lover-gulling, and Claudio sang beautifully; I can

never now imagine the play without a Claudio

who didn’t.

I happened to bump into the Leonato actor -- Jean-

Claude Jay -- near the old Clink prison on my way

to the next day’s matinee and congratulated him

on a wonderful performance. He told me that he

enjoyed playing Leonato as much as he’d once

enjoyed playing Gloucester (to Michel Piccoli’s

King Lear); and that Much Ado was infrequently

performed in France because, traditionally,

Benedict was a role that defeated most leading

French actors. Well, Bruno Blairet was hilarious

in the part, slightly absurd in his purple kilt,

discovering the crunch moment of truth about

himself in the play, as must all good Benedicts,

when commanded to kill Claudio by Beatrice.

The season’s programme revealed that Poiree’s

production was set among the chaos of an

Italian restaurant, but like any sensible visiting

company to the Globe, they ditched all that

and played to the architecture of the stage and

auditorium, and did so brilliantly.

The Lithuanian Hamlet, directed by Eimuntas

Nekrosius, and famous throughout Eastern

Europe, imported its intimidating steel boot

tips, steel machinery and serrated chandelier

in defiance of the Globe, but was so strong and

so vivid, they triumphed. Like all great Eastern

European productions of the play that I’ve ever

seen, this was a poetic and political response to

Hamlet rather than a literal reading. Gertrude

spoke very little (no willow grew askant the

brook for her), Ophelia was a pipe-smoking

psychotic doll, the Ghost popped up in the

“play” scene and again at the end to wrest a

symbolic drum of regime change from his own

dead son’s grip, Polonius was asphyxiated in

a terrifying steel cabinet (not stabbed behind

the arras), and the play was accompanied

throughout by some plangent piano music,

played live, ranging from Soviet martial and

lyrical folk tunes to Italian opera. Rosencrantz,

Guildenstern, Osric and the Players were all

rolled into a versatile factotum trio of clowns,

and the final scene duel was represented by

an ensemble swishing number, brutal and

ineluctable. Andrius Mamontovas, an actor of

immense technical and emotional presence,

played Hamlet as if for the first time, though

palpably ageing fast and curiously resembling

Ed Balls after a drastic haircut.

Meanwhile, as they say, in another part of

the forest, seven actors (four British, three

Catalan) explored the uses of adversity and

the entanglements of love in a performance

of Shakespearean extracts that was the very

opposite of The Hollow Crown or “Your

Favourite Tunes”. This was Catalan director

Calixto Bieito’s “take” on Shakespeare,

directly commissioned by the London 2012

Festival and co-presented with the RSC at the

Birmingham Old Rep (still a delightful theatre;

why cannot it be harnessed professionally

full-time?) and then the Barbican. This beautiful

and philosophical dissertation – something like

Ted Hughes’s thematic selection of speeches in

his Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete

Being – revealed characters in the extremity of

love, loneliness, fear and desperation, drawn

THE WORLD CITIES

2012 PROJECT

OF TANZTHEATER

WUPPERTAL PINA

BAUSCH...SAT

VERY WELL IN THE

LONDON 2012

FESTIVAL, IN MANY

WAYS DEFINED

THE FESTIVAL

“ATMOSPHERE”


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 27

THE LITHUANIAN

HAMLET, DIRECTED

BY EIMUNTAS

NEKROSIUS...

IMPORTED ITS

INTIMIDATING

STEEL BOOT TIPS,

STEEL MACHINERY

AND SERRATED

CHANDELIER IN

DEFIANCE OF THE

GLOBE, BUT WAS

SO STRONG AND

SO VIVID, THEY

TRIUMPHED

to the darkness of “this wood within this wood,”

liberated from the constraints of conventional

narrative, elemental and provocative.

As an echo chamber of past Shakespearean

glory days, the Old Rep still has a special

“atmosphere,” not that Forests was like anything

else you might have seen there; the initial museum

exhibit of a single gnarled tree in an illuminated

gallery (the show’s epigraph is a quotation of

Joseph Beuys proclaiming the tree as an element

of regeneration) was a magnet for escape and

adventure, as is Arden for Rosalind and Celia.

And there was an astonishing scenic coup half

way through, when a mound of earth fell flakily

apart and engulfed the stage and the actors.

In some ways, Forests was a dream play, or

nightmare, with the great poetry of As You Like It,

Macbeth, Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens

and other unexpected nuggets – the great scene

of a father and son who have killed each other

in Henry VI, Part 3, several of the sonnets, and

the first quarto version of “To be, or not to be” –

pressed into an alternative world at first seductive,

then violent and dangerous. The British actors

(who included an RSC Rosalind, Katy Stephens)

represented different performance traditions but

knuckled down to the violence, masochism and

heartache with a gratifying intensity, while their

Catalan counterparts re-shaped the magic and

lyricism of Shakespeare in their own language.

With Tim Mitchell’s exquisite lighting, the

performance achieved a spiritual, unnerving

consistency from Bard to Beckett, forging modern

links in the original and tremendous songs of

Maika Makovski, a gypsy rock guitarist who

made sour old Feste in Twelfth Night look like

Val Doonican.

The World Cities 2012 project of Tanztheater

Wuppertal Pina Bausch, co-presented with

Michael Morris’s Cultural Industry, sat very well in

the London 2012 Festival, in many ways defined

the festival “atmosphere,” with audiences

clamouring for tickets at both venues and critics

taking the opportunity to reassess both Bausch’s

overall contribution and the facets of particular

shows. My own response, on seeing two shows

(The Window Washer, conceived in Hong

Kong, and Palermo, Palermo) was that modern

dance theatre is still defined by the Bausch style,

nothing more influential has come along since,

and that her theatre, three years after her death,

still retains an unusual and extraordinary ability

to shock, entertain and, above all, emotionally

pulverise its audiences.


28

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

THIS WAS NOT

A TOURIST’S

POST CARD BUT

A GALLIMAUFRY

OF GYPSY

FANDANGO,

JAZZ, BLUES

AND RITUALS OF

HUMILIATION

Each piece, usually three hours long, was the

result of a residency or festival visit in a foreign

city. As Peter Pabst, the brilliant designer,

says, Hong Kong is one of those places that

knocks people over with lasting impressions,

and here we had huge shiny advertisements,

street walkers, rhapsodic jazz interludes, a

jungle walkway, fireworks, depilation centres

and roaring aeroplanes overhead. The stage

was dominated by a mountain of luminous red

blossoms which served as a sort of human anthill,

a focus for ensemble scenes of party-throwing

and expeditions, with the strangely isolated

window cleaner – who had obviously seen it

all – skiing down the side of it after he has made

his way through customs and stripped to his

underpants to pass through the metal detectors

(the metal’s in his teeth). That last scene, typical

of the Bausch method, was an epic scenario of

non-existent linear narrative refined down to

moments of exquisite brutality and obsession:

a manic waiter taking orders for drinks in the

audience (and bringing them); a bony transsexual

(was she?) walking precariously along a sloping

table and sliding down again; a speech about

bad breath by a raddled usherette; a sit-down

company jive to a joyous boogie woogie.

Physically fascinating and hypnotically attractive,

the company is still full of strong individual

characters, several of whom were in the company

when I first found them at the Adelaide Festival in

1982, before they even came to London. Once

you’ve seen Pina Bausch, you are spoilt for most

other things and companies in the “physical”

or dance drama department. Nothing else is as

good, as technically impressive or proficient,

as strange, as moving, or as sexy. Should we

say farewell Forced Entertainment, nice try

Matthew Bourne, or come again Punchdrunk?

The Window Washer (1997) is by no means the

best of the company’s work, but the scenes and

the silhouettes burn themselves on your retina,

and you are lost in their world for a few hours and

changed, when you emerge, for ever. Pina, too,

like Mark Morris, is always a great deejay: this

show had Indian, Romanian and Mexican music,

Fado, Iranian guitar music and Dizzy Gillespie.

Even the costumes were sensational.

The penultimate blast in the season of Pina was

a trademark special of look back in angst and

anguish in Palermo. Know anything about Sicily?

This show hit the nail on the head in terms of

danger, conspiracy, street-fighting, shoes, church

bells and stray dogs. The dancers were lost in a

world of their own and a fight against the city.

This was not a tourist’s post card but a gallimaufry

of gypsy fandango, jazz, blues and rituals of

humiliation, men and women on different sides

of the same song sheet, throwing tomatoes and

apples at each other, some of them bouncing

off metallic city walls. My favourite moments in

Pina Bausch are always the climactic ensemble

diagonals, or rectangular lines, which combine

private, regimented hand gestures and glides

with accumulated power, the transcendent power

of theatre itself; I miss this in her more recent

work. Still, in Palermo Palermo (1989) there were

several great moments: a male sextet cradle a

horizontal waif on their insteps; another woman

borne similarly in reaction to a cartwheel against

the proscenium; six pianists repetitively banging

out the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s B-flat piano

concerto until it becomes a hurdy-gurdy street

tune; the women in floral smocks performing a

surprise handstand protest against the burnished

walls. But for all the hypnotic solos, I missed the

ensemble beauty and insouciance of 1980,

Kontakthof (my favourite of all Bausch shows) and

Nelken. There’s a sense that she started, at some

point, to take herself too seriously as a dramatist

rather than a choreographer, and the dance is

what we’re here for.

In any other company, and with lesser performers,

a lot of Palermo Palermo would be pretentious

and even precious. But with Pina Bausch, the

artists are rooted in their personal stories and

idiosyncrasies to an extent that is beyond nitpicking.

None of them is beautiful in an obvious

way, but all have a sort of spiritual magnetism that

has been transmitted by Pina herself. The show

started with the collapse of a city wall (something

similar happened in Berlin that year). This created

chaos, rubble, an endless peal of clanging church

bells, a sort of dirge-like chorale of personal

stories gathered in a company display of despair

and rejection, a dance machine. Spaghetti

(“These are all my spaghetti” declared a hilarious

Joan Crawford- like diva), cicadas, stormy

weather and a crouching procession ensued,

the latter with coordinated arm gestures and hip

swivels, in sharp contrast to the nervy, repetitive

side-swipes of the girls who were asking men to

kiss them, hug them, leave them alone.

After such a sustained and illuminating treat, it

was perhaps hard to see why the London 2012

Festival should have muscled in on the BBC

Proms, already the most exciting annual classical

music festival in the world. Yet by pointing

up the participation, for instance, of Daniel

Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s

series of Beethoven and Boulez -- “Barenboim’s

insistence on combining Beethoven with Boulez

made this project really exceptional for me,”

says Mackenzie, also reminding me that she was

able to help Proms director Roger Wright lobby

for more money and sponsorship in a year of

more commissions than ever – the London 2012


Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands 29


30

INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS

Festival could satisfy the artistic remit of suing

actively for world peace which is a fundamental

tenet of the Olympic ideal. I attended the

Prom where Barenboim and his band put a

rocket under Beethoven’s Fifth and radiated

tempestuously in the Sixth. This music is nothing

if not dramatic and, as David Cairns said in the

programme note, “over-familiarity is powerless

to blunt its primordial force.” There’s a moment in

the Fifth when the musical narrative breaks into a

syncopated fugue between all four string sections

that is simply breath-taking, and the orchestra

seemed possessed of a common demon.

Like many people, I wanted to “taste” this part

of the Proms in the lead-up to the Olympics

themselves, which opened at the end of that

Barenboim week accompanied by a towering

performance of the Ninth in the Albert Hall. The

mixing in of some smaller-scale Boulez with the

Beethoven, proved an inspired idea that didn’t

quite work; because of stage-management

requirements, it was impossible on the night

I went to take the interval between the two

Boulez pieces (each just eight minutes long)

which were sandwiched by the symphonies,

one after the Sixth, one before the Fifth. So the

interval was taken after both Boulez miniatures,

leaving the Fifth to stand alone in defiant majesty.

Unfortunately, no announcement was made, and

the signs in the foyer areas had gone unnoticed.

So there was a mass migration after the first

Boulez, followed by a confusing return of some

I ATTENDED THE

PROM WHERE

BARENBOIM AND

HIS BAND PUT

A ROCKET UNDER

BEETHOVEN’S

FIFTH AND

RADIATED

TEMPESTUOUSLY

IN THE SIXTH

of the early departed during the first bars of the

second, which caused unwanted kerfuffle all

over the place; it was exactly like the second act

of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, with confused

pensioners coming and going during the matinee

at Goole because of a mix-up in the interval calls.

If Beethoven, both in Raploch and the Albert

Hall, embodied the Olympic spirit of striving

and aspiration, two wonderful Irish projects

confronted cultural themes of pressing urgency:

the touring nine-hour triptych of Tom Murphy plays

that comprised DruidMurphy – Conversations on

a Homecoming (1985), A Whistle in the Dark

(1961) and Famine (1968) – were about the Irish

experience of emigration and home-coming,

ranging from the potato famine of the mid-19th

century to the “new” prosperity of the 1970s;

and “Happy Days,” the first International Beckett

Festival in Enniskillen placed the great Irish writer

in a wider context of the other arts, beyond the

bleak and narrow nihilism with which he is more

readily associated.

Tom Murphy is a leading theatrical and literary

figure of our time, and as great a dramatist as

Brian Friel, something they know in Dublin and

Galway, but not necessarily in London where,

ironically, his first big success, A Whistle in

the Dark, was premiered. That play, a violent

domestic tragedy of a set of Mayo “iron men”

descending on Coventry in Warwickshire to visit

the family’s eldest son, Michael, in 1960, came

across – in the too brief season at Hampstead

Theatre in June before visiting Oxford in August --

as a pre-emptive, impassioned strike against both

Harold Pinter and Edward Bond; it’s brutal, nasty,

and deeply upsetting and compelling

in equal measure. And it punctuated

Conversations on a Homecoming, a lyrical

Galway pub drama in which another “favoured”

son, also called Michael, returned to his sleepy

backwater from New York in the early 1970s;

and Famine, which charted the repercussions

of the cata-strophic Great Hunger in a fictional

rural community of 1846.

The Druid (based in Galway) performances

also visited New York and toured Ireland as

part of the London 2012 Festival, and a brave

part, too: many Londoners, myself included, are

here because of the famine, and subsequent

emigration waves, and Murphy’s dramas attempt

to assess how notions of “home” and “the old

country” sit with the desire for escape, renewal,

return and spiritual possession.

In Conversations, a rich and hilarious precursor of

both Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh,

Michael’s New York career as an actor may be

suspect; how does “home” receive or assess

what we do “away”? You’re welcome back,


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 31

but hated for having gone in the first place: we

had to carry on without you, and don’t we just

love to have a good old moan about it into our

pints? Marty Rea, who played both Michaels,

conveyed this ambiguity quite beautifully, while

Garrett Lombard as the teacher who stayed

behind and Aaron Monaghan as the shifty

small-time entrepreneur locked horns either side

in a battle for status on the home patch. A picture

of President Kennedy adorned the stark grey

walls of the Whitehouse pub: ten years after his

death, the countryside still claimed inspirational

affiliation; with both JFK and the absentee

landlord, out on a binge.

All of these plays acquired a new resonance in

the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s demise and the

collapse of the economy. Ireland is a “last refuge”

claimed Monaghan’s gesticulating wide-boy,

but for what, and for whom? They all got drunk,

as did the fighting Mayo boys in Whistle, led

by Niall Buggy’s extraordinary dominating

Dada, a former policeman who may not be as

big as his boom or his bite. “Irish men shouldn’t

get married” said the abused Warwickshire

housewife, counterpart to the same actress’s

simpering, tolerant but equally anxious fiancée

in Conversations. The combination of poverty,

religion and family formed a toxic poison in

relationships; political oppression justified the

tragic fall-out.

Famine, the one play I’d not seen before, proved

to be the most astonishing, a poetic and elliptical

stew of Brecht, O’Neill and wild folk music, with

a child’s funeral, a desperate scramble among

the blighted potato crops, a confrontation

between armed peelers and angry peasants, a

dissection of emigration policy as, in effect, land

enclosures, and a monumental performance from

Brian Doherty as the heroically conflicted and

beleaguered farmer. These were snapshots of a

nation’s history, fleshed out in scenes of intense

theatricality in Garry Hynes’s superb productions,

all three plays designed by Francis O’Connor

and lit by Chris Davey within an echoing surround

of slanting corrugated iron, tinged with burnt soil,

a landscape that retrospectively consumes both

village pub and Coventry rough house.

Happy Days were most definitely here again

in Enniskillen, twenty-five years after one of the

worst atrocities in the Troubles put the charming

little Fermanagh Lakelands town on the map for

all the wrong reasons. The man responsible for

the first Happy Days: Enniskillen International

Beckett Festival, Seán Doran, was frankly

surprised and relieved at how enthusiastically

the locals responded to his quirky multi-media

programme over the last Bank Holiday weekend

in August. Beckett attended Portora Royal school

between 1920 and 1923, before returning to

Dublin and resuming his studies at Trinity College,

and he excelled at almost every sport going:

rugby, swimming, cricket especially (he is the

only Nobel prize-winner listed in the cricketer’s

bible, Wisden), boxing, cycling and rowing.

The festival reflected all that, but for Doran there

was even more: “It’s completely wrong to think of

Beckett as a monochrome artist with a drab view

of the world. His work, and especially his prose,

pullulates with his joy in music. He played the

piano and read scores, he staged his plays with

the Dutch masters in mind; his holistic thinking is

what prompts and legitimises us going through all

the art forms for him.”

So, there was a wonderful concert given by the

Vienna Trio of his favourite composers: Haydn

(you always laugh), Schubert (it was the Adagio


32

Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands

It’s a cliché to

say that Beckett

is the ultimate

writer of light

and dark,

but I’d never

experienced the

truth of this so

intensely before

as in this

‘All That Fall’

“Notturno,” so you cry, unaccountably) and

Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, simply the best. Ian

Bostridge sang Beckett’s all-time favourite piece,

Schubert’s “Wintereisse,” and Ruby Philogene

sang Mahler’s Rükert Lieder, which have poignant

Beckettian texts.

That last concert was just fifteen minutes long,

and entrance was free in the Catholic cathedral,

right across the road from the Protestant church.

In the true Beckett spirit of brevity and precision,

there were pop-up mini-concerts everywhere,

with tiny pieces played twice under the umbrella

title “Play It Again, Sam,” (misquoting the line

from Casablanca with witty justification). Near

the churches, the Jolly Sandwich bar offered a

Krapp filling of banana and hazelnuts, and an

Endgame special of ham and clove, while many

of the hairdressers in town – I counted eleven

along the High Street -- were offering a Beckett,

having been furnished by Doran’s team with

portraits of the writer from youth to old age.

Having initiated the festival six years ago, without

any idea that there would be a contribution from

London 2012, Doran now says that he could not

have gone ahead without that support. For me,

this confession alone justified the London 2012

Festival; Enniskillen was a blast, and this time in

the right sort of way.

There was one hard-core Beckett performance,

that of Lisa Dwan achieving a personal best

time with the jabbering mouth-piece, Not I, her

vivid, clacking mouth isolated in a black void;

she came in at well under ten minutes (the first

“mouth,” Jessica Tandy took twenty minutes,

Billie Whitelaw, Dwan’s mentor, took fourteen;

Beckett demanded a delivery at “the speed of

thought”). But this was a stunning aberration

in a programme that investigated ways of

doing Beckett differently without upsetting the

notoriously severe and protective Beckett estate.

A “son et lumière version of the radio play All

That Fall was a wholly successful experiment;

the audience sat in rocking chairs (cushions with

skulls on them) while listening to the text, a far

better “staging” than Trevor Nunn’s later in the

year at the Jermyn Steet Theatre in London, when

Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon “pretended”

they were acting in a radio recording studio. The

lights intensified – a forest of bulbs, luminescent

lemons, Fintan O’Toole called them – as the train

drew nearer. The radio play was first broadcast

by the BBC in 1957, the very same year as the

railway line to Enniskillen was closed. Amazing

coincidence and poignancy.

It’s a cliché to say that Beckett is the ultimate writer

of light and dark, but I’d never experienced the


INDEPENDENT EVALUATIONS OF LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

ESSAYS BY MICHAEL COVENEY & MARC SANDS 33

truth of this so intensely before as in this All That

Fall or indeed as at a remarkable installation

by the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, Texts

for Nothing, in which long strips of illuminated

words could only be read at a certain distance

and which, close up, looked like braille in

darkened relief against a black wall. Wilson’s

Krapp’s Last Tape, in its European premiere, was

entirely conceived in black and white and grey. It

opened with the most tremendous thunder clap,

an explosion, followed by a torrential rain burst

indicated by fluvial stair rods running down the

white spines of a virtual library. Neat, precise,

accurate, Wilson still managed to do a stunning

Krapp like no other, trapped in his meticulous

office like a shock-haired clown surrounded by

scripts and spools.

In lightening up over Beckett, Eniskillen was in

overall tonal step with London 2012, which

continuously found room for populism in

poeticism, fanfare in the folksiness and even

levity in high art. There was no real artistic

continuum between the world premiere of

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s six-hour Mittwoch aus

Licht (Wednesday from Light) in a former chemical

plant in Birmingham, and Jeremy Deller’s bouncy

castle version of Stonehenge which toured the

country…except for the fact that both events

were highly unusual and idiosyncratic and

both kept the audience on their feet, sometimes

jumping up and down. The Stockhausen was a

world premiere, but Graham Vick’s Birmingham

Opera Company have for many years produced

unexpected large-scale classical works involving

the community in disused factories, banks, even

ice-rinks, so in some respects the London 2012

Festival was invaluably focussing on one of the

most extraordinary enterprises in our nation’s

culture. But not many of those performances have

featured, as did the Stockhausen, a string quartet

playing in flying helicopters, kite-runners, two

choirs, a world parliament, live electronic as well

as acoustic music, and a dancing camel which, in

the phrase of one critic, defecates seven planets.


34

Independent Evaluations of London 2012 Festival

Essays by Michael Coveney & Marc Sands

we were all

part of the

same thing,

and that’s

what happened:

we came

together as

a nation

Shortly before he died in 2007, Stockhausen

said that the ideas in the parliament section of

Mittwoch aus Licht are: “to unify whatever is

contrary, whatever is different, and create a

world that is a whole, in order to discover the

beauty of this connection of all the different

parameters, as we call them in music – all the

different manifestations of life.” It’s almost a

perfect definition of the complementary functions

of the modern “inclusive” Olympic Games and

a cultural programme that, in London 2012,

insisted on embracing the nation at the same time

as the nation itself found ways of feeling better

about itself. I went to the Olympic Stadium during

the Paralympics to see the wheelchair athlete

David Weir win the second of his gold medals

with a phenomenal performance in the 1500

metres. I am absolutely convinced that it was the

roar of the crowd – I’m a football fan, and I have

never heard such a noise from 80,000 people –

that carried him through the back straight to the

finishing line.

This was audience participation on a scale that

the London 2012 Festival consistently aspired

to, underlining the fact that there is simply

no public art without an audience, and no

audience tomorrow without the engagement

and involvement of the youngest of our citizens

today. Like so many people, what I loved about

the Olympics, and London 2012, was that, when

I look back, I honestly didn’t think that I would feel

so positive and upbeat when Sebastian Coe and

his team came home with the winning nomination

for the games. As a theatre critic, you’re

sometimes made to feel defensive about your art

form. Now, we have no excuses for not feeling

the opposite about what happened last year;

nor, more importantly, does anyone else. The

children in Raploch, the choirs in Birmingham, the

volunteers in Enniskillen (who were superb), the

volunteers in the Olympic Stadium, the athletes on

the track, the artists on the stage; we were all part

of the same thing, and that’s what happened: we

came together as a nation.


CREDITS

PREMIER PARTNERS OF THE LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

PRINCIPAL FUNDERS OF THE LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL

SUPPORTERS OF THE LONDON 2012 FESTIVAL


Photo Credits:

Cover One Extraordinary Day © Fiona Hanson

Page 2 BBC Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend - Dizzee Rascal © BBC/Getty Images

Page 4 Picadilly Circus Circus © Matthew Andrews

Page 5 Damien Hirst © Getty Images

Page 6 Peace Camp – Godrevy, Cornwall © Nik Strangelove

Page 7 BBC Proms in the Park – Kylie Minogue © Danielle Peck

Page 8 The Garden - Graeae Theatre Company/Strage Fruit © Alison Baskerville

Page 9 Official London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Posters – Rose Rose © Bridget Riley; Divers ©Anthea Hamilton;

Capital © Gary Hume; Work No. 1273 © Martin Creed; Swimming © Howards Hodgkin; Superhuman Nude © Fiona Banner;

For the Unknown Runner © Chris Ofili; LOndOn 2012 © Rachel Whitebread

Page 10 Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes © Martin Creed

Page 12 Inside Out: Fire Garder © Ludo Des Cognets

Page 13 One Extraordinary Day © Getty Images

Page 15 Hang On a Minute Lads, I’ve Got a Great Idea – Richard Wilson © James Cousens

Page 16 Julius Ceaser – Royal Shakespeare Company © Kwame Lestrade

Page 17 Global Truce 2012 Countdown – Jude Law © Peace One Day

Page 18 The Big Concert – Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela & the children of Big Noise, Raploch © Mac Marnie

Page 19 One Extraordinary Day © Julian Andrews; David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture © Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Page 20 What If © Luke Varley

Page 21 A Running Jump © Simon Mein

Page 22 Macropolis © Joel Simon

Page 23 Einstein on the Beach – Philip Glass & Robert Wilson © Luke Jansch;

Page 25 Troilus & Cressida – Royal Shakespeare Company and The Wooster Group © Hugo Glendinning;

Timon of Athens – National Theatre © Johan Persson

Page 27 Hamlet – Meno Fortas, Lithuania at Shakespeare’s Globe © John Haynes

Page 29 World Cities 2012: Der Fensterputzer, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch © Detlef Erler

Page 30 BBC Proms 2012 – West–Eastern Divan Orchestra & Daniel Barenboim © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Page 31 BBC Proms 2012 – BBC Symphony Orchestra & Nicola Benedetti © BBC/Chris Christodoulou;

BBC Proms 2012 – Christian Marclay: Baggage © BBC/Chris Christodoulou;

Page 32 Krapp’s Last Tape – Samuel Beckett, Robert Wilson © Brian Morrison;

Page 33 Mittwoch Aus Licht / Wednesday From Light Birmingham Opera Company © Helen Maybanks; Sacrilege © Jeremy Deller

Page 34 London 2012 Parlympic Games Opening Ceremony – Jenny Sealey MBE and Bradley Hemmings © Getty Images

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