Call the Fast & Furious films what you will - many people have - they're not without drama. So, more than anything else, the live action arena show must be dramatic. Or why else see it? A big TV, a decent sound system and the DVD box set is already pretty good way to get your fix, so what the show has to achieve is to make fairly slow speed in very confined areas look cool, while also incorporating key Fast & Furious elements along the way.
This is no great transformation from the films, for better or for worse. So while there is a story, with characters played by Elysia Wren and Mark Ebulue attempting to track down a master criminal, you won't miss any dramatic plot twists should you nip out for a drink or a wee. Or both. Twice. And while the audience participation is a nice idea, its appeal wears thin pretty quick. No, what you're here for is the action, the immersion of seeing recognisable movie cars in person, and thrill of those cars performing stunts you're not capable of - even when the Tesco car park is really snowy.
By and large it's a success, even if some reviewers may disagree. But what are you expecting? Of course you're not going to get 120mph, 300m powerslides in the O2, or even Arena Birmingham. There's only so much space for an arena show with cars, and the Fast & Furious Live crew have done a laudable job of conveying some real automotive excitement with the significant restrictions placed upon them.
In the rehearsal we watched, the role of a Lamborghini Murcielago was take by a Vauxhall VX220, because clearly an MR2 was not powerful enough and an Elise too expensive. Whatever, the real thing is there for the show, in the Arctic scene from Fast 8, and witnessing a smoking, sliding, howling Lamborghini strut its stuff around a show floor - however contrived the sequence - is quite the spectacle.
The Tokyo Drift scene is well worth seeing too, particularly if you've ever attempted some slow speed skiddy stuff and found yourself hopelessly embarrassed. The cars run close, accurately, pretty briskly given the size of the space and with the sort of oversteer that only results from months of methodical training. Say what you want about the story, the effects, or anything else, these performers can really drive.
As mentioned after rehearsals, the 2 Fast 2 Furious sequence with the LED effects is perhaps the best bit of the show. There really has been nothing else like it in terms of preparing cars for a show before, and makes for genuinely unmissable action when combined with the driving. It's still a shame that they don't have the proper engines - and you'll notice that too, because you appreciate what a line up that could be - but heck is it all very clever.
Beyond that it's really variations on a theme, some more successful than others. The Brazil bank job from Fast 5 was enjoyable enough, as much for seeing pirouetting V8 Chargers as anything else, but the fake damage - where pyrotechnics burst out bits of the bodywork - could and should have been slicker. Seeing a Buick GNX is notable on its own, though again attempts to make its appearance more dramatic - with a flaming fuel tanker, obviously - do feel a little overdone. But then it is Fast & Furious...
You can see the frustrating paradox in creating a Fast & Furious live show now. The premise is far from bad, although it's not quite given the scope to be fully realised in this format. There isn't really an alternative, and they've done a good job within the constraints faced, though to see the potential unfulfilled remains frustrating. That being said, fans of the franchise will find a lot to like about the live show, which is surely exactly what Fast & Furious Live needed to achieve. In the same way that any film past, well, the first one, was unlikely to broaden the appeal of the franchise, neither will this show. What it will do is keep the hardcore supporters (the Furiousiti?) content, and those people really should see it. More casual fans, however, will probably be best served by saving some money and sticking with that box set.
Buy tickets here.