It's been a very long time coming, but North Greenwich's giant white elephant finally reopened to the public yesterday. There had been a couple of trial events last week, one for Greenwichresidents on Wednesday and a knees-up for sponsors and theiremployees on Saturday. But Sunday was the first day that anyone could go inside and experience the new "hub of entertainment" for themselves. So I did. And I took photos. And it was great to finally get back inside.
Day O1 Rather brilliantly, the owners of the revamped Dome synchronised their reopening with the last day of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. The public spaces in and around the Dome were filled with stilt walkers, musicians and eccentric street art, and there was much to see and enjoy. Crowds stood spellbound in the main entrance watching acrobatic "conedancers" [photo]. Milling spectators blocked the foot of the cinema escalators while a deaf drag act camped it up (in sign language) to a diva-esque musical medley [photo]. Elsewhere there were bungee tumblers to admire, giant mechanical insects to experience and intimate one-on-one performances by unembarassable face-painted actors. The annual GDIF is always spectacular, and this was no exception.
The O7 But what's left beneath the Teflon tent once the street theatre departs? Not as much of interest as I was hoping. The main public space is Entertainment Avenue, a fake street stretching two-thirds of the way round the perimeter of the Dome. Only half of it is open at the moment [photo], lined by a selection of pizzerias, steakhouses and Mexican grills. So, it's great if you fancy lunch, but not terribly exciting otherwise. The passage isn't especially broad, particularly with al fresco dining tables spilling out of the surrounding restaurants, which has caused considerablecongestion for early visitors. In the main entrance hall there's a bubbly blue chandelier [photo] and also a single mobile phone shop (you can guess who) which looks like a cross between the Apple Store and the Rainforest Cafe. In London Piazza [photo] (is that really the best name you could come up with guys?) there's a knobbly translucent igloo called the Chill where you can "recharge your personal batteries" with the aid of headphones and a piped "audio landscape" (no thanks). And in Cinema Plaza [photo] (good grief, that's even worse) you can act out your own music video and have it uploaded to your mobile phone. It didn't take me long to work out that I'm so not target audience for this place.
The RadiO2 At the heart of the complex is the main arena, surrounded by a grey concrete walkway blessed with numerous lavatories, bars and ketchup dispensers [photo]. From what I could see through the doors on Level 4 the main arena looks like any other modern cutting-edge arena with a capacity of 20000 - lots of identikit blue stacked seats and corporate boxes. From others'photos there appears to be a giant O-shaped walkway in front of the main stage with a large "2" lower right so that, presumably, the name of the main sponsor imprints itself on your retina during every performance. I truly hope that this was only a temporary debut feature. Bon Jovi were the first paid-for act yesterday, and a succession of stadium-sized ultra-safe Radio-2-friendly acts are lined up to follow them. Which is great, because music of this calibre usually inspires me to stay at home instead, which should save me a lot of money in the future.
The Onoyoudon't Black shirted security guards were everywhere yesterday [photo]. It was their unenviable job to keep tens of thousands of curious non-fee-paying visitors at bay, and to stop us from going where we shouldn't. Not up these stairs, not past this rope, and most definitely not inside that arena. One told me off for walking through a restaurant seating area when I was trying to find the way into the cinema (signage is pretty poor, so it wasn't as obvious as you might think). The bloke who frisked me (front and back) before I could pass into the outer arena walkway [photo] was rather friendlier, and declined to confiscate my phone when I told him it wasn't the officially preferred network. But most scary of all was the shaven-headed bloke in a fluorescent jacket labelled "Trademark and Copyright Team" [photo]. He was scanning visitors as they arrived, no doubt on the alert for any outbreak of unofficial ambush marketing. Because, you know, the main Dome sponsors have paid a lot of money to splash their name everywhere, and our appreciation of their brand monopoly needs to be enforced.
The Ozero The reborn Dome is clearly going to be a great success, if only because of the arena at its heart. Anywhere that can sell Barbra Streisand tickets at £500 a time is most definitely onto a winner. The Indigo nightclub should draw in the punters after dark, and people will always want to eat overpriced pizzas. But that's as far as it goes for now. I'm not convinced that North Greenwich needs another multi-screen cinema (there are 11 screens here to add to 18 more just half a mile down the road). A third of the available internal space is wasted on a walled-off concrete void where the Super Casino was going to be, but isn't [photo]. Indeed, despite the vastness of the site there's not really anything here (yet) to make this a must-visit spur-of-the-moment destination. Maybe they should bring back the acrobats, drag queens and stilt walkers because, alas, I'm not sure why I'd want to go back inside otherwise.