Review of the new one man theatrical extravaganza written and presented by Ned Boulting
The Evening was billed as the Tour de Ned. It was to be the story of the 2018 Tour de France as seen through the eyes of ITV4 commentator, Ned Boulting. My expectations for the evening were all based on this ‘trailer’ for it.
His story had been distilled, and filtered down into a two-hour show presenting the race in comedy rather than commentary. Rather like the ghost of Henri Desgrange, which appears in the show, underlying it was another, unintended, story; that of the OK bloke and the demigod.
We were watching the first public outing of the show before the Tour about Le Tour goes on tour at the end of the month. There was the odd stumble, and a couple of times his notes were referred to. For a preview this seemed pretty good, especially as these occurrences were used to add to the overall sense of comedy. At times you could almost see the cogs whirring and registering whether a particular item went well or if, indeed, it required further refining.
It was interesting to see a stand-up act gestating. It was stand-up with props and pictures as well as jests and jokes; so it may be better described as a one man show. Yet, so well managed was the presentation that, when there was a moment of poignancy, the hall fell silent for a brief moment of comprehension and reflection. Enough to show the necessary respect, and then on with the wit and humour.
The stage set had a wonderful feel of the kind of quirky improvisation that, at one time, would have been seen at a scout gangshows or a village panto. That’s not meant to be derogatory, for it very aptly set the scene with a sense of welcoming familiarity.
Once Boulting had made an interesting entrance and arrived on stage, he opened the show and introduced a guest. This was his co-commentator, David Millar, who unfolded himself from part of the set for his conquering limbs to stand astride, if not from land to land, certainly, it appeared, from side to side of the stage of the Stanley Halls in South Norwood.
He was greeted with enthusiastic applause. Not the wild whooping which Bradley Wiggins may have received for being one of the lads, or the polite applause I’ve seen proffered for Chris Froome. This was a different applause and, as his legs manoeuvred themselves down the steps to take a seat in the front row, I realised that this was applause given with respect. Not the respectful applause that might be given to someone because of rank or position, but applause given with that rarest of commodities – respect that has been earned.
I was to muse on this later. If it had been the Schleck that doped, I think there could have been some pantomime booing. If Floyd Landis, perhaps there would have been howling. David Millar received respect. Is there deep within our collective subconscious, the memory that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth…” ? Confession, penance, absolution, and still a desire to serve the sport; particularly the peloton. Yeah, that was respect I heard. No wonder Boulting was to draw comparisons between religion and the racing of bicycles.
The show continued, giving a summary of every stage of the Tour de France, each of which contained its own comedy moment or vaguely related unusual event.
Members of the peloton made regular appearances throughout the evening. Some by mean of a facetime recording, others courtesy of Ned Bolting’s mimicry. I should stress here that he is no Rory Bremner – these were comic portrayals and all the more entertaining for it. His Peter Sagan became a running gag throughout the performance, as did his references to Geraint Thomas. Ned, as Sir Dave Brailsford, managed to be both brilliant and slightly disturbing at the same time.
There was a fitting tribute to Mark Cavenish which made the woman in front of me utter a slightly pained, “Oh no”.
During the Tour de Ned rest-day, or interval as it is known, I watched David Millar, still sat in the front row using his smart phone. He could have been playing Angry Birds (and part of me likes to think he was), but somehow we all know it will have been something more cerebal. Few people approached him, and those that walked by seemed to be giving him more space than you may expect.
This wasn’t out of fear of an ascorbic response, or out of awe but because, I realised, there was an aura around this man – this being. An invisible forcefield that could only be supernatural. Then I saw the feet – large white paddles that could pedal. Surely though, they would bring aerodynamic issues of their own; but no, for I think I glimpsed little vestigial winglets on each ankle. In that moment I knew the truth. This must be Hermes, Son of Zeus, messenger of the gods, the god of boundaries and the transgression of boundaries. All was clear, this was neither man nor beast – it was a demigod.
Whilst I was receiving that revelation, the bar had sold all it was going to, the queue for the toilets had dissipated, and the show continued.
Boulting’s co-commentators’ foibles increasingly featured in the show. The evidence of these were often presented as video clips; proof beyond contradiction. His affection, in the nicest sense of the word, for Chris Boardman was clear. Even Phil Liggett cropped up so that one of his commentary howlers could be repeated. The mercurial Millar, if you’ll forgive me for switching from Greek to Roman deities, was the butt of some, literally, pointed jokes that even drew almost sympathetic oohs from the audience.
The choice of soundtrack for the show and children’s TV programme referenced within it, probably gives a more accurate indication of our presenter’s age than his Wikipedia page.
Swearing inevitably occurred, but not with the same prevalence as its use in some TV comedy programmes or in many stand up acts. Boulting is better than that. He can make an impact, or elicit emotion or shock, through his use of words and the way he presents them. As a result, when he does swear, it works within the context of the show. This skill in the use of language also make the show accessible to more than just bike geeks or race fans. The person I took to the Tour de Ned isn’t a cycling fanatic but, most years, follows the Tour de France through the TV highlights programmes. She understood most of the jokes, found it funny, and enjoyed the evening.
The show finished in an unexpected way that the entire audience appeared to enjoy. Or as one of Pythons may have said, “that was silly, very very silly.” Chapeau Ned Boulting.
Once the show was over. The hall emptied and small groups formed outside as sundry bicycles were unlocked from just about every pipe and railing to the front and sides of the building. Just listening to the chatter I learned: “That (the show) was alright that was”, and; “He’s (Ned Boulting) pretty good”. Across the road a group had gathered waiting for a bus up the hill. There I discovered Ned had been seen on a bike, “actually on the track”, at Herne Hill. Then came that ultimate understated British compliment; “Yeah, he’s an OK bloke”.
Across the road the demigod appeared for a moment before heading off into the night. Everybody looked; nobody spoke. We were not worthy.