Show review: Top Gear Live at the Grand West Arena, 30 January 2010
I have a confession to make – one that will contradict my enthusiasm for public transport and that will permanently damage my green credentials:
I love cars.
That’s right – I’m a petrolhead. I love the roar of a V8 engine, the howl of a straight-six. I love the mechanics of driving – the response you get when pressing your right foot into the floor. Worst of all, I love Top Gear, that highly controversial motoring show broadcast locally on BBC Entertainment. I watch every episode. I’m the saddo who watches the repeats. Sure, I don’t often agree with what Jeremy Clarkson says but I find him amusing nonetheless. Speed, destruction of hapless caravans and yobbish behaviour – it all appeals to me. Top Gear, it’s ridiculous and refreshingly non-PC.
When I lived in Britain I applied to be in the audience for the filming of an episode of the TV show. Top Gear is very popular, however, and getting tickets is about as difficult as finding your size at an end of season sale. I missed out. The 2008 British Motor Show in London’s Docklands, which featured a Top Gear exhibition (and not much else, as many marques skipped the event, presumably due to the recession), was a poor substitute. My friends and I left early and went to the pub. Therefore when it was announced that Top Gear would be bringing their live show to South Africa, I immediately got in the car, drove to my nearest Computicket and bought a ticket for one of the Cape Town shows at the Grand West Arena. A good ticket too – five rows from the stage.
The foppish James May was a no show, much to my disappointment as he brings a voice of reason to the proceedings. Clarkson and Hammond, however, were on top form, each playing their Top Gear characters to perfection and early on joking that May had disappeared at Sandy Bay (a nudist beach on Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard). Sasha Martinengo made up the trio and represented South Africa in the challenges.
The afternoon started with a bang – literally; a massive pyrotechnic explosion (the first of many) had me jumping in my seat. A fire breather and a Subaru Impreza soon followed, the latter drifting around the arena whilst quite literally on fire. Brilliant. This gratuitous laddish behaviour set the tone for the production, which included the “Cool Wall” and other segments reminiscent of the BBC TV show. The highlight of the day was a car football match, played out on the arena floor with six Chevy Sparks (they’re good for nothing else). Team SA, captained by Sasha beat the Hamster’s Team England 3-1, a result that surely cannot be repeated come World Cup 2010. The Stig later put in an appearance as well, much to the joy of the audience.
Kudos to Clarkson and co. for translating the TV show into a fun filled, slick stage production full of loud music (including Deftones and the Prodigy), loud explosions and death defying stunts. As a bit of escapism, the show succeeded on every level. It felt like I was in a car park on a Saturday night watching yobs doing burnouts in their cars to impress their mates – immature, but gripping. At one hour and twenty minutes it was not a moment too long or too short, although by the end I had developed a small headache from all the carbon monoxide circulating in the air. I’m amazed that no prior warnings were given about the loud pyrotechnics or air pollution in the arena. If this had been England, the health and safety people would have had a field day.
Season 13 of Top Gear starts on BBC Entertainment (DSTV channel 120) on 10 February.
A side note on the Grand West Arena: This seems like a great venue. It reminds me a bit of Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. With venues such as these in Cape Town, how come we attract so few decent foreign acts?