May’s flying circus
I'm grateful in life for many things, but at the moment, chief among them is that I'm not part of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I think it must be a bit of a drag. For a start, you'd have to get all the words exactly right, because otherwise you might corrupt the Bard's exact meaning about the slings and arrows or whatever. And the sort of people who go to see Shakespeare generally know this stuff, so you can't just busk your way out by saying ‘He has killed me mother' and pretending to die.
And have you read The Merchant of Venice? That's a lot of words, many of them not in common circulation (anon, tarry, troth, argosies etc). You have to know them all and get them in the right order.
This contrasts nicely with being a part of TopGear Live, which isn't like the RSC. Yes, we have a script, and there are certain points that have to be hit if the flaming rally cars are to emerge at the right moment, but on the whole we only have to stick to the gist of the thing for it to work.
It helps greatly that TopGear Live is really a circus, rather than a highbrow theatrical experience. I never have to stand around while Clarkson delivers a soliloquy on the quality of mercy, which is merciful in itself, although once or twice I've had to stand there while Clarkson delivers nothing at all, because he's forgotten what comes next. Fortunately, the entire content of every version of our show exists in the collective heads of the three blokes in the arena, so it comes out one way or another.
“TopGear Live is us at our purest, because the bumbling, the boasting, the falling over are unique to each performance”
For example; I've featured in 58 performances of the show this year - 65 if you count the full dress rehearsals - and it's always my job to introduce the first appearance of the TopGear Live Stunt Driving Team. Yet on one occasion, in Auckland, and for reasons that will forever baffle me, I could remember what they were called only as far as ‘The TopGear Live...' I think it was Kiwi V8 Supercar hero and pie-maker Greg Murphy who filled in the missing words. You can't get away with that if you're John of Gaunt.
Now that this year's world tour is over, I wanted to indulge myself here with a few reflections. To be honest, I was never entirely convinced that TopGear Live would work. The studio parts of TopGear TV aren't live, and never could be, because we'd balls it up too often. But somehow the stimulus of an arena full of well-wishing enthusiasts can turn mere presenters into something like performers.
And the fact that it can't be edited adds a certain frisson to the experience. In one version I have to deliver a simple insult to Hammond in a moment of his incompetence. I tried to use a different one every time, because no one could stop me, and I enjoyed watching him brace for it. Unlike other bits of TopGear, which are ruthlessly scrutinised before inclusion, ‘You big dingleberry' simply leaps out and then is lost forever to insult entropy. Again, you don't get this in Kafka.
This is what intrigues me about TopGear Live. In one sense, it is us at our most amateur, because with the best will in the world we are not actors or stand-up comics. But it is also us at our purest, because the bumbling, the boasting, the falling over and the failure to start a Flymo engine are unique to each performance. It's never the same twice, and there's only one chance to get it right.
To be frank, there have been times when I've waited backstage and wondered if I really can laugh at Jeremy's hovercraft for the umpteenth time. But then I pass him on my strimmer-powered motorcycle while he gyrates uselessly, or possibly crash into him, and I can't really tire of it.
Really, though, I wanted to say a number of thanks. Obviously they include the thanks that go in the speech at the end-of-show party, to the countless people driving cars, working mixing desks, operating lights, setting off fireworks, repairing broken Reliant Robins, rebuilding the hovercraft, setting themselves on fire and so on; to moon-faced producers who keep it all hanging together and fat businessmen who arrange for all this stuff to turn up on time all over the world.
But mainly to those of you who came to see us, because I never imagined, when I first began writing, that I'd one day be able to walk into an arena not long vacated by AC/DC and shout ‘Hello Sydney' just because I was interested in cars.
I'm grateful, I really am, and I apologise for any bits I cocked up slightly.
To see some highlights from the recent world tour, visit the TopGear Live website.
Want to comment on this?
sound pretty cool
Great, now I have to add another tally to the many times I've whined to my parents about wanting to see TopGear Live.
My friends and myself have been to Earls Court now 2 years running to see Top Gear live and have been amazed by the show. It's us that should be thanking you James for making the live show brilliant. So James and the rest of the clan, thank you, we'll be back this year, in a posse of followers. Lorraine, Tina, Nat, Heidi, Lisa, Debs, Kerry, Helen, Nicolah, Eleanor. And we can't wait.
The show in Holland was awesome. I really enjoyed it. Hope next show will come to Holland too but with James May instead of Beau van Erven Dorens or if you (James) can't make it or anyone else can't please bring Jeroen van Koningsbrugge in the show he's a very funny guy and is just like you guy's always cocking about. But it would be best if all 3 of you could make it of course. Keep up the good/rubbish work !
south american tour 2011?