GDIF Artistic Director
Tomorrow at 8.30pm, I’ll be sitting in a control box overlooking the Tyne and taking a deep breath, as the Opening Ceremony to the one millionth finish of the Great North Run gets underway. I remember back to two years ago in 2012, when Jenny Sealy and I were similarly poised, looking down at the crowds in the Olympic Stadium. It’s going to be an equally emotional and poignant night.
This time, the Arena is even bigger than an Olympic Stadium. It has a tidal river running through it, alongside the most beautiful collection of bridges in the world, plus of course, the breathtaking Sage Gateshead, which, in the course of the show, will be transformed with groundbreaking video mapping. Some of the awe-inspiring behind the scenes production statistics reflect the Ceremony’s ambition: 248 glass panels on the Sage have been covered with vinyl on which 480,000 lumens of projection power will cover an area twice the size of Buckingham Palace. Twelve river vessels will take part, whilst the Millennium Bridge, (the world’s only tilting bridge) and Sir William Armstrong’s hydraulic Swing Bridge, will both be choreographed as part of the show. I’m therefore very fortunate to be working with one of GDIF’s longstanding production managers, the brilliant Gary Beestone, as well as Production Stage Manager, Sam Hunter, who has worked on countless Olympic and Paralympic Ceremonies.
Large scale ceremonies like this don’t come around very often and so it’s been a big honour to have been invited to create and direct, particularly as the finishers of the Great North Run are every bit as inspiring as those Paralympic athletes were two years ago. I’ve been able to meet with many of them at our Volunteer Rehearsals, where I’ve been humbled by their commitment and pride in this pioneering mass participation sporting event, which in complete contrast to the Olympics or Paralympics is not about elite athletes, but running for everyone. It’s this inclusive and democratic spirit that lies behind the Great North Run and in creating this Ceremony which I very much wanted to celebrate. The ceremony boasts a world class creative team, including designer Jon Bausor, hotfoot from his recent success with the National Theatre of Scotland’s critically acclaimed James plays.
It’s also been an amazing experience to work with Carnegie Award winning writer David Almond. When David and I first met in a bar overlooking the Tyne, we saw a salmon leap out of the river and the emotion of that miraculous moment seems to have found its way into the show. David’s beautiful script will be performed by Jill Halfpenny and Tim Healy, taking audiences on a spectacular time-travelling journey through the story of the North East, from the dawn of time to the one millionth finish which take place three days after the Ceremony on 7 September at South Shields. An astonishing and suitably epic score for the Ceremony has been created by Ivor Novello award winning composer Dan Jones, performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia with spectacular architectural film projections onto the Sage Gateshead from BAFTA award winning film maker Tal Rosner.
And throughout, at the heart of the Ceremony, will be a cast of hundreds of volunteer performers who have been inspiringly led by Mass Movement director Nathan Curry. With Ant and Dec welcoming the crowds, and featuring musical performances from Sting, Mark Knopfler, Mercury Music Prize nominees The Unthanks and platinum-selling drum’n’bass Chase and Status, together with Glastonbury favourites Lords of Lightning and Alchemy Fireworks, September 4 will be a night to remember. The Ceremony will also be screened on BB2 on Sunday 7 September as part of the coverage of this year’s Great North Run Millionth Finish event. The countdown begins!