The opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham “has a broadcast ambition that has never been conceived before” and will be comparable with the London 2012 Olympics ceremony, according to the show’s artistic director.
The two-and-a-half-hour performance in front of 30,000 spectators at Alexander Stadium is expected to attract a global audience of 1 billion people when it is aired on Thursday night.
It comes almost 10 years to the day since the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, which received widespread acclaim.
“I don’t feel in the shadow of the Olympics at all. I feel like we have a comparable and massively entertaining, moving, challenging show to share with the world,” said Iqbal Khan, the theater director who created the show. “The Olympics was extraordinary for this country, but we refuse to be overwhelmed by that. We take that as inspiration.”
Duran Duran are returning to their home town to headline the ceremony, which will also feature Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra.
Led by the chief creative officer Martin Green, the team behind the show includes the Peaky Blinders creator, Steven Knight, and Hamish Hamilton, who has directed the Super Bowl half-time show every year since 2010.
Green, who was head of ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics, said: “This is Birmingham’s turn on the world stage and I’m delighted that the rich musical heritage that is woven deep into the fabric of this place is at the heart of this generation-defining show.”
There are 1,800 volunteers from the region taking part in the show, which will follow 72 young people representing the nations and territories of the Commonwealth embarking on a journey through Birmingham old and new.
“The volunteers are in the DNA of the whole show,” said Khan, associate director at the Birmingham Repertory theater, who grew up in the city. “Their spirit has been overwhelming. I think it’s a joyful show and there has never been a greater need for joy than now.”
Khan said he was very conscious of the fact that the show was one of the UK’s first opportunities to present itself on a global stage post-Brexit.
“We have gone through a time of unparalleled division in this country, so to have the opportunity to celebrate the beautiful things about living with difference feels like a very necessary and joyful thing to do,” he said. “But I’m not doing a variety show because it’s cool or because it’s our message, I’m doing it because that’s what this place is.
“This city has been made from Commonwealth children’s voices and we want to celebrate the fact that Birmingham is now, I think, the premier Commonwealth city in the world.”
The opening ceremony will feature the formal declaration of the start of the Games, marking the beginning of 11 days of sports in the city, with 19 events over 16 venues.
The diver Jack Laugher and the weightlifter Emily Campbell, both Olympic medal winners, will be the flag bearers for team England at the event.
The Commonwealth Games minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: “London 2012 brought spectacles of this kind to a whole new generation. Ten years on, this ceremony will connect a new, global audience and showcase the very best of Birmingham and the whole of the UK.”
Khan, who has been working on the show for 18 months, said he was confident it would “not disappoint in the scale of its theatricality and the scale of its ambition”, as well as in its presentation of Birmingham.
“There is an iconic phrase that Brummies use around here, which is we’re proud to be modest, and that’s lovely and it’s a slightly subversive joke. But I think there’s a growing desire to really make a noise about ourselves,” said Khan.
“We conceived this show as both an unparalleled show of excellence for the live audience but a show in broadcast terms that has an ambition that has never been conceived before.”