When you’re being Dominic Toretto, you do not sweat. You do not hyperventilate when your helicopter sweeps over London Bridge, and you definitely do not scream like a terrified child while hurtling full throttle at the passenger side of an enemy vehicle.
“Are you OK?” asks the calm young woman driving NME at high speed towards the blacked-out car that’s been chasing us around the skidpan, then performing a pinpoint 360 degree handbrake turn and roaring back across the tarmac in the opposite direction. We are decidedly not okay. We are sweating, hyperventilating, screaming inside and wondering how on earth we’ve ended up inside the Fast & Furious Live show, the self-styled “greatest car show the world has ever seen” that’s due to squeal into London’s O2 Arena on January 19 and arenas nationwide soon, trailing submarines, flying oil tankers and crashing airplanes. The day had started, after all, like some grand illusion…
10.15am: Battersea Heliport
“Enjoy the flight and see you on Fast Camp!” read the mysterious invite, suspiciously short on details of where we were flying to and what a Fast Camp was. Stranger still, we arrive at Battersea Heliport to find we’ll be sharing a ‘copter to our secret location with TV magician Dynamo, who’s busy wowing our fellow journalists by making ink dots disappear from their hands.
“Which way would you like to go?” our pilot asks. “North Circular, then the A10?” we reply, but it turns out he means ‘do you want to scrape the top of the London Eye on the way?’
10.45am: Secret Midlands army base
Just half an hour later we’re a hundred miles north, being whisked by 4×4 from the chopper across the landing strip of a secret army base to a large hangar stinking of burnt rubber. Here James Cook Priest, CEO and Executive Producer of Fast & Furious Live, “a pioneering moment in entertainment history” and “a show that’s going to fundamentally change the expectations of live car entertainment” over a five-year world tour. Director Rowland French explains how the show, co-written with Fast & Furious writers, will combine live-action stunts and acted scenes with a whole new story built around filmed footage featuring the stars.
“It’s the very first of its type,” he says. “Previously car shows involved monster trucks or jumping motorcycles, perhaps three old men racing Reliant Robins around a stage. Fast & Furious will be the world’s first truly theatrical car show. It takes the greatest stunts from across eight of the most blockbuster car movies ever made and recreates them live in front of you.”
Utilising 3D mapping technology to transform the arenas into the streets of LA, Miami, Rio and Tokyo car parks, as well as vast expanses of icy waste, the show promises to send the flaming oil tanker from F&F5 flying across the arena, recreate the cargo plane crushing a tank in F&F6 and even squeeze a 3-metre-high submarine into The O2. Add in all of the movies’ iconic cars and it sounds like the most thrilling and unpredictable thing on four wheels since the late, great George Michael last went out for munchies.
11.30am: Fast Camp
And so it proves. In a neighbouring hangar, we’re treated to a rehearsal display from “the most elite stunt driving team ever created”, screeching, squealing and donuting around in tight formation, spewing fire from their exhausts and dodging jacknifed lorries and remote-controlled missiles like they’re dithering grannies outside Tesco’s. As the dust settles and Dynamo climbs onto the top of a tank to try out the machine gun, NME hops into one of the cars – all of them tooled up with big red buttons, imposing levers and mysterious boxes spewing wires – with lead driver Chris Burns.
“People joke about turning thing to eleven,” Chris says, “this is 111. This pushes the envelope, this is a whole new kind of awesome. The production team have literally pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in an arena space.” Did anything sound impossible on paper? Chris sighs. “Six or seven months ago I was sitting at my desk and I overheard a conversation about a submarine… We’ve got vehicles that defy logic in this sort of space.”
Have there been any accidents during training? “We’ve had a few bumps along the way but that’s what the training cars are there for,” Chris says. “It allows us to find the edge and then dial back from there.” At which point someone taps NME on the shoulder and invites us to sit in one of the training cars during a stunt routine. Um, remind me how far you’ve dialled it back from the edge so far?
2pm: The jaws of Hell
Screeech! Squeeeal! Vrooom! Precious little dialling-back appears to have been done as we careen around an outdoor skidpan, The Rock on the outside but, inside, a soggy pile of soiled knickers. Dazed and dizzy, we finally stagger from the passenger seat feeling like we’ve gone twelve rounds with Kit from Knight Rider, thankful that we’re not the ones that have to try to act amidst all this insanity.
That’ll be Elysia Wren and Mark Ebulué, playing federal agents hunting down a new villain, which will presumably be a bit like trying to stage a play in the middle of the Grand Prix. Outside of organising Jeremy Clarkson’s catering, isn’t this the most dangerous role in showbusiness? “On paper yeah,” Mark grins, “there’s action and explosions and stuff, but it’s all controlled chaos.”
Our day in a nutshell. Now, Dynamo, to the chopper!
Fast & Furious Live is at The O2 in London from January 19 to 21, then at arenas nationwide until May.