Having been to the last three consecutive MPH events at the NEC in Birmingham, I had a rough idea of what to expect from the newly renamed Top Gear Live – my favourite middle aged trio prancing around in ludicrous contraptions and expensive dream cars amidst a typhoon of pyrotechnics and delicious driving. And guess what? I was right.
Top Gear Live is the acclaimed team’s latest idea of how to make a small fortune. The idea is that, since getting tickets to the actual show is a near impossible feat, the format is brought over to a live arena and acted out in a pervasive pantomime of sorts. Since last year however, they realised that, given Top Gear’s phenomenal worldwide popularity, even more obscene amounts of money could be made, and so the show was expanded into a fully realised world tour spanning locations such as Dublin, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.
As the team have proclaimed themselves, the experience is quite akin to that of a rock concert, as everything is brash, loud and utterly grandiose. And that’s no bad thing.
The performance started in spectacular style, featuring a fire wielding dancer and a host of stunt drivers demonstrating their driving proficiency by power sliding across the live stage with commendable choreography.
But I didn’t care for any of that garnish, as the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May’s grand entrance, complete with scripted, but of course hilarious and inimitable, banter – Jeremy’s jibe at Richard’s venture into advertising Morrisons was fully appreciated. Each host performed very well, with a level of enthusiasm and sense of humour that perfectly captured the spirit of Top Gear intact.
This was followed by a typically Top Gear challenge whereby each presenter fought the realms of the recession by creating their own budget vehicles by utilising tools from a shed. It therefore wasn’t a surprise to learn that the resulting contraptions involved functioning vehicles made out of things such as deck chairs, leaf blowers and chainsaws. But what could you possibly do with such things at your disposal? Stage a drag race, of course.
As with last year’s world tour, the cool wall made an appearance in the form of an interactive segment that invited audience participation. As the cars were driven lovingly around the stage, you were required to hold up a corresponding card to indicate whether you thought it was “cool” or “uncool,” which would then be recorded in real time. Jeremy also interacted with the audience during this part, targeting people such as an unfortunate man wearing a tasteless jacket. Less successful however was a contrived lap time segment whereby the cards had to be held up to steer an on screen car, whilst the audience were also required to make as much noise as possible to increase the speed.
Another highlight came from a race featuring Reliant Robins hurtling around the stage. With only three wheels to muster, watching them frequently topple over around every corner was unarguably a unique and downright comical sight to behold.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Top Gear without a smattering of supercars taking centre stage, and Top Gear Live delivered on this front, as a tantalising array of supercars that you could never afford were showcased including the tasty Bugatti Veyron.
The final act of the show was concluded by his holiness the Stig in an act dubbed as “Carmageddon,” a gladiatorial, Death Race style match against pursuers which climaxed with an impressive loop the loop stunt – a fitting end, I must say.
Admittedly, the event felt like business as usual in most areas, but then I only have myself to blame for being such a self confessed Top Gear fanboy after attending almost every previous performance. This year however I decided to be adventurous and purchase the highly prestigious platinum tickets, which, at a wallet crunching £100 each, are the top tier above the gold and silver tickets. Marvellously, not only did this grant me a seat that was a mere 4 rows away from the front but it also landed me with a free pie.
What’s more, I was positioned almost directly next to a dividing set of stairs that the presenters used to reach the audience. This meant that, at one point, Jeremy ended up virtually walking right past me – those who know me will know why this resulted in me trembling in my seat ecstatically like a hyperactive child.
Once again, I attended the Birmingham performance, but navigating the NEC was very much like trawling through a congested airport – lots of walking around dizzyingly vast halls and getting lost.
Outside Top Gear Live was the MPH Prestige & Performance Motor Show, which featured an assortment of desirable supercars on display to ogle over. Again, more money was to be made with the inclusion of an inviting merchandise stall which I admittedly fell victim to rather heavily. Wafer thin models were even on hand offering massages to unsuspecting passerby’s and then there was the Classic Motor Show, which catered for the older generation of anoraks who marvel at ancient cars – my father instantly felt right at home.
There’s no denying that Top Gear Live was a glorious spectacle. A bit more variance would have been appreciated for those like me who went to last year’s event, but then they can’t tinker with the formula too much – this was the Top Gear we all know and love in spades.
And finally, for your enjoyment, here are a few snippets of video I recorded for you to nibble on: