Fast & Furious Live: a sneak peak at the stunt spectacular heading for Belfast
You've seen the movies, now buckle-up for the real thing: the high-octane, high-tech Fast & Furious Live arena show is bound for Belfast next year. David Roy visited the secret training camp where an elite team of stunt drivers and technical boffins are currently getting revved up
FANS of the blockbusting Fast & Furious franchise will need to fasten their metaphorical seatbelts when Fast & Furious Live screeches into Belfast's SSE Arena next May.
Just like the hit movies, Fast Live will combine real car stunts with computer-generated wizardry and practical special effects.
However, with the new live arena show, fans will now actually be able to smell the exhaust fumes and burning rubber as the action unfolds.
Earlier this week, The Irish News visited the event's 'Fast Camp' training facility in the English East Midlands, where we witnessed Fast Live's elite team of stunt drivers being put through their paces and got a sneak peak at the show's 'work-in-progress' special effects.
The elaborate production is currently in rehearsals for an inaugural 23-city European tour, which kicks off at London's O2 Arena on January 19 and arrives in Belfast for three shows at SSE Arena between May 4 and May 6.
The £25 million two-hour show is set to recreate some of the most memorable moments of motorised mayhem from the series – from drift racing, daring truck heists and exploding petrol tanker showdowns to supercar skyscraper-hopping and a nuclear submarine chase – in arenas across the globe via carefully choreographed multi-vehicle stunt routines enhanced by cutting-edge technology.
Audiences will also get to participate in an all-new Fast & Furious storyline via special interactive elements, as they help star street racer Sophia Diaz (Elysia Wren) and DSS Agent Dawson (Mark Ebulué) to hunt down the villainous Cain.
Vin Diesel's 'acting' will be relegated to a backseat role for the show: while the star and producer of the F&F films will feature in Fast Live via specially pre-recorded content, the real focus of this scripted arena spectacular will be the iconic vehicles of the eight-feature franchise.
For example, a lovingly refurbished screen-used example of the modified 1970 Dodge Charger driven by Diesel's street racing high-jacker turned crime-buster Dominic Toretto in 2001's The Fast and The Furious will be the very first car fans will drool over during each performance.
Fast Live will also feature 24 other four-wheeled F&F favourites including precise recreations of the 1995 Toyota Supra used by car-mad undercover cop Brian O'Conner (the late Paul Walker) and the trio of black Honda Civics employed by Toretto's team for their truck heists in the original film, the stripped-out 'flip car' buggy from Fast & Furious 6 and the Ice Charger which featured in the most recent instalment, The Fate of The Furious.
Indeed, the latter two Fast Live vehicles are also genuine 'screen-used' cars.
The job of sourcing this eclectic selection of exotic rides fell to Belfast-born stunt driver Chris Burns, the leader of Fast Live's 11-strong crew of extreme wheelmen and women – which also features Irish driving talents Jonny Irwin from Fintona in Co Tyrone and 'Buttsy' Butler from Waterford.
A veteran of the hit show Top Gear Live (produced by some of the same team behind Fast & Furious Live) who claims to have spun his first tyre-shredding 'donut' at just nine years old, Chris is one of the most experienced stunt drivers in the world.
As a big Fast & Furious fan, his new role is something of a dream job.
"You say 'fan' – I think 'nerd' is a better term!" chuckles Chris who resides in Co Fermanagh when not putting his team of daredevils through their paces at 'Fast Camp' and who insisted that the show should visit his hometown.
The Belfast man admits to having Brian O'Conner's violently Lamborghini orange Toyota Supra repainted three times until a perfect screen-accurate colour mix was achieved.
"I'm a car guy through and through, so for me everything has to be as accurate as it can possibly be," he explains.
"So there's been days where our mechanics have been ready to string me up because I've been trying to make the cars as perfect as perfect can be – because ultimately that's what fans of the franchise will expect.
"Myself and the creative team and everyone else have strived to deliver the most accurate experience that we possibly can."
Chris, who ran the Steer From The Rear stunt team before hooking up with Top Gear Live for a seven-year stint, insists that Fast Live is his most spectacular driving job to date.
"Fast & Furious Live is essentially the most amazing arena show the world will ever have seen to date," he enthuses.
"It's remarkable – there are a lot of new technologies in it which have never been available before or haven't existed before.
"We have a company motto that the word 'impossible' is just a word. It's going to be quite the show."
Indeed, Fast & Furious live promises to transport audiences around the world without ever leaving their seats as its full-throttle action zips from Los Angeles to Tokyo, Rio De Janiro to Russia and beyond.
It will employ state-of-the-art 3D projection mapping, a visual effect that will create a series of virtual environments on the arena floor, thus allowing the show to transition seamlessly between pre-shot footage and the live stunts indoors.
The man responsible for pushing the stunt and technical teams to the red line is Rowland 'Rowly' French, Fast & Furious Live's creative director and executive producer.
Londoner Rowly, whose mother hails from Derry, is no stranger to car-based action: a confirmed petrolhead, he was formerly a producer on Top Gear and the creative force behind its hugely successful spin-off Top Gear Live.
He first had the idea of bringing the Fast franchise to arenas four years ago.
"I just really wanted to write the show because I was a massive Fast & Furious fan – it's not like Universal Studios asked for it," admits Rowly, who's clearly relishing the considerable challenge ahead now that the films' Hollywood guardians are on board.
"It's come as a bit of a surprise that I'm now actually playing with this huge global brand. But the whole team here are all big Fast & Furious fans too, so we're going to make the show as good as it needs to be.
"It will be the world's first truly theatrical car show – and it's been described to me by one of the largest set-builders in the world as the most ambitious arena show ever made."
Certainly, if the promised immersive capabilities of the technology involved can match the levels of sheer skill, creativity and enthusiasm we witnessed at Fast Camp, audiences in Belfast are in for an unforgettable ride when Fast & Furious Live hits town.
:: Fast & Furious Live, Friday May 4 to Sunday May 6, SSE Arena, Belfast. Tickets go on sale at 9am today, full details Fastandfuriouslive.com