A notice appears on the large LED screen before the show, almost like the health warning that appears before a party political broadcast on television, describing Fast & Furious Live as ‘adrenaline-fuelled’, adding it is ‘packed with live stunts and excitement’. It’s better to be forewarned than not, I suppose, but for all the razzmatazz and big-budget special effects put into this production, it doesn’t leave the audience as amazed as it could have.
It’s clear, however, that much thought has gone into this production, and it’s so meticulous nothing goes wrong. That itself is quite an achievement. This is not a monster truck show where a vehicle fails to do a backflip and must try again (there are some hilarious videos on YouTube and elsewhere of stunts gone wrong). In its polished professionalism, every vehicle in what the programme describes as ‘Cirque du Soleil with cars’ does precisely what it is supposed to do. But there’s some indication of human fallibility even in Cirque, where someone doesn’t, for instance, make it to the top of an already absurdly high human pyramid at the first attempt.
Fast? Well, only with the use of two types of CGI at the same time – computer generated imagery and collective group imagination. The special effects and projections are, to be fair, extremely well done. But the vehicles themselves move rather beautifully, in the production’s closest thing to choreography in the production’s closest thing to a big ensemble musical theatre number. Perhaps they move a little too beautifully, leaving the ‘furious’ element of the show somewhat suppressed – any notion of anger or stress-induced frenetic activity had disappeared with two cars ‘floating’ on ‘clouds’ with the serenity that such a journey (if you can picture it) would be reasonably expected to produce.
There is, at least, precision, but even in the large arena space, there is only so much room to manoeuvre. There’s a storyline, with Sofia Diaz (Elysia Wren) and James Dawson (Mark Ebulué), respectively a ‘street racer’ and an ‘intelligence agent’ – it would appear a ‘spy’ isn’t called a spy anymore – taking the audience through a good versus evil journey. Having a plot (of sorts) helps to a certain extent to engage the audience, but I got the feeling there were people in this opening night audience who were wanting to see more car stunts, patiently waiting for the dialogue to finish so the show can get back to the so-called “real action”.
The recreation of certain scenes from the motion picture series is credible, and in parts, incredible at that. The scenes get, generally speaking, progressively more absorbing. The show breaks the audience in gently, and a few members of the audience decided to walk out fairly early on in proceedings. At this point, the production seemed to shout, ‘Okay, now they’ve gone, let’s take this show up several levels!’ Of course, a show like this is going to save the best for last, and the finale scene was, to be fair, pretty spectacular.
The lighting, too, was imaginative, though the audience participation (absolutely not compulsory, no matter what Diaz and Dawson say) was a little too contrived for my liking, although I hasten to add that much of the audience played their part with gusto. The whole thing is real enough for The O2 Arena to smell like a petrol station forecourt well before the interval. Certainly a unique experience, Fast & Furious Live demonstrates what theatre can do these days when equipped with the latest technology and a large enough budget. But lots of money doesn’t necessarily translate into great storytelling.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The adrenaline-fueled, two-hour show is set to be the most spectacular live arena production ever produced, featuring precision performance driving and newly created physics-defying stunts. Using favourite cars and locations that criss-cross the globe along with key scenes from the film series – created via state-of-the-art 3D projection mapping – fans will be transported straight into this immersive extension of the Fast & Furious movies.
Audiences will feel the heat from flaming exhausts and marvel at vehicular acrobatics as scene after scene unfolds enhanced by the most advanced digital projection technology imaginable. Featuring several original cars from the films, as well as exact replicas of fan favourites — from Dom’s legendary Dodge Charger to the flip car from Fast & Furious 6, Fast & Furious Live will evoke some of the boldest moments from the franchise.
20th-21st January 2018
The O2 Arena
Fast & Furious 8-Film Collection (1-8 Boxset) BD + digital download [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]