A village cricket team, 12 horses, 10 chickens, 70 sheep, a model of Glastonbury Tor, two mosh pits, and the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world are among the sights that will greet the world when the curtain comes up on the London Olympics, it has been revealed.
The surreal vista of a "green and pleasant land", with giant maypoles representing the symbols of the four nations of the UK around which children will dance, is the scene for the opening sequence of Danny Boyle's £27m opening ceremony extravaganza.
The director has ignored the age-old maxim about never working with children or animals. The opening scene features real grass, real ploughs, real soil and – said Boyle – real clouds that would supply "rain" if there was none in order to ensure an authentically British atmosphere. With no Glastonbury festival this year, the event will be evoked with a replica of Glastonbury Tor and mosh pits at either end of the arena.
One of those pits will have a Last Night of the Proms theme and the other a festival atmosphere, with around 100 young people in each.
While the show will open with a rural pastoral vision that evokes William Blake and Jerusalem, it is expected to evolve to take on a more urban hue. Boyle said he would not reveal how the "puzzle fits together" and he refused to confirm any of the acts taking part, although Sir Paul McCartney has already confirmed his involvement and the likes of Take That and The Who are also expected to feature.
But the director underlined that it was not a musical show, but a narrative set to music. The electronic group Underworld have already recorded two lengthy tracks at Abbey Road to score the action. The closing ceremony will be a more traditional celebration of British music.
Boyle had already revealed that the three-hour opening ceremony would be titled Isles of Wonder, a title based on a speech by Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest that will be referenced throughout the four ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Stephen Daldry, the Billy Elliot director who is overseeing all four ceremonies, said the ceremony was Boyle's "singular vision" rather than being developed by committee. In all, the ceremonies will cost £81m – a figure that doubled from the original budget.
If the jubilee weekend was a festival of pageantry and heritage, it already appears that Boyle's opening ceremony will be a more playful and anarchic treatment of British culture.
"You're bound to fail, that's built in. But you hope that on the journey, you hope people will find enough in it to feel that it is representative of us," said Boyle.
He said there would be British humour and that the country's history would be represented but "not in a box-ticking way", and the show would reflect "parts of our heritage but looking forward as well".
A troupe of NHS nurses will appear in one sequence, but Boyle said the show would not be overtly political.
"This is a festival of celebration of an Olympic ideal. But it's not a naive show. We're trying to show the best of us, but we're also trying to show many different things about our country. The growth of cities is an extraordinary phenomenon that is clearly linked to the growth of the Olympic Games."
The cast and crew, which will number 10,000 once volunteers are taken into account, have one more weekend of rehearsals in Dagenham before moving into the stadium – where the replica of Glastonbury Tor and the giant bell are already in position. There have already been 157 rehearsals.
The BBC confirmed that it would supply two short films to the opening ceremony and Boyle said it would differ from previous Games in being more cinematic in tone, rather than relying on scale alone.
"We're trying to make you feel like you're watching a live film being made," said the Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director. "It feels like when you're planning a big sequence in a film. We're trying to make it feel like a live recording of a film that all happens on one evening. We're trying to shoot it in a very visceral way.
One of the major challenges will be keeping the athletes, who will parade around a circuit designed to evoke the M25 or London's north circular road, moving.
"There is an hour of culture, then there is the parade of athletes and the lighting of the cauldron and the fireworks. In between that, there is the protocol – the speeches and the raising of the flags. All of that is preceded by the arrival of the head of state,"
Boyle said the giant bell, hanging at one end of the stadium, sounded "absolutely amazing". It will ring to begin the show.
"You will feel different when you're in there and you hear it ring. When you hear it it's very sweet. It's ancient, so it reminds you of the past. It's also timeless, so it evokes the future. That was how communities notified each other something important was about to happen," he said.
Boyle also teased that there would be "real clouds" over the stadium.
"They will be real clouds that will be hanging over the stadium. Work that out if you can. We know we're an island culture and an island climate. One of these clouds will provide rain on the evening, just in case it doesn't rain."
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