Last November, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May brought chaos, comedy and carnage to the Birmingham NEC and London Docklands ExCeL arenas.
AA Rewards managed to catch up with Hammond and May to find out more about how the shows went. "To be honest I quite like driving in on our stage," said Hammond. "It's our set from the studio, but we're driving it around in front of thousands of people which is a bit of a surprise."
The stage is based on an old car that they procured from, well, somewhere. May sums it up: "It's a Mini engine and gearbox, sort of welded up with … stuff."
You know that TV is edited and polished up. But the live show… once it's happened it's gone.
The overall theme of the show was Top Gear's interpretation of what the Olympics should be. So, cue Lamborghini hurdling, moped chariot racing, and, er, 'splat the rat' (don't worry – it's only a handful of radio-controlled cars dressed as mice).
Fans of the TV show may wonder how it can be translated to the live stage. Richard offered an explanation. "I think right from the outset, when we first started anything with a Top Gear Live flavour years ago, it was a question of 'How can you do Top Gear off the TV, but live?'.
"The similarities are in terms of attitude and approach, but the differences are that you get immediate feedback. If our [live] audience thinks it's crap they'll make noises to indicate that."
James, Richard and Jeremy presenting Top Gear Live
Of course, live theatre is liable to throw some surprises into the mix. "You understand when you go to a TV show that you're watching a TV programme being made," said James, "and therefore you know that TV is edited and polished up. But the live show … once it's happened it's gone."
"Here, if someone sticks [a car] in the wall, he sticks it in the wall – you can't cut around it," agreed Hammond.
But that forms part of the charm of the show, says May, and makes it that bit less predictable for the audience. "The thing about doing this [Olympic] Games thing is that if you went to watch athletics or a football match, you'd have no sense that you knew what was going to happen – and you've got that in a live show."
The surprise was the car curling. I hope it's fun to watch because it's brilliant to do.
Having polished off the round of shows, the chaps have found a favourite game. "The surprise was the car curling," said Hammond, laughing. "I hope it's fun to watch because it's brilliant to do."
"It's quite alarming as well," said May. "Alarming because Hammond's and Clarkson's cars are out of control, and alarming because I'm in front of them on a quad bike. It's very difficult not to look over your shoulder when Richard Hammond is behind you in an unsteerable car. I can't believe I agreed to this. Actually, I don't think I did agree to it – it was foisted upon me, but there you go …."
The work the presenters do is actually less scripted than the audience may think. "In a sense our bit takes the least rehearsing because we're doing words," said James. "The choreography of our stuff is minimal because we get involved [and live shows are spontaneous]."
Richard agreed with a smile. "When we're playing splat the rat or chariot racing, we're just playing a game," he said. The smile splits into a huge grin and then a laugh. Clearing his throat, Richard added in a much more sober tone: "But we are actually having a race…"
The audience can be excused for thinking that the show had been planned with military precision, with rehearsals going on for weeks on end.
"Rehearsals? Oh years. Years," fibbed Richard. "It's 24 hours a day for weeks and weeks. My life has been a rehearsal for this moment, and those to unfold following it."
An equally unconvincing James added: "But in another sense, speaking for myself, I sort of started rehearsing for this at the age of about three. I didn't know it was going to happen, but…"
They may be a trio of middle-aged buffoons, but there can be few in Britain who don't love the Top Gear team .
(24 October 2013)