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Fast and Furious sneak peek: Fasten your seatbelts for live show at Belfast's SSE Arena

Exclusive stunts and supercars galore as $15m extravaganza roars into town

By Ralph McLean

Fans of the Fast and Furious films should strap themselves in for an all new experience in speed because the live extravaganza is roaring its way into Belfast's SSE Arena next May.

Five years in the making and boasting state-of-the-art 3D mapping, live stunts and visual effects it promises an explosive journey through some of the most memorable moments from that hugely successful film franchise when it finally hits the road for its debut global tour next year.

That means the sight of a pimped up Dodge Charger and a dayglo orange Lamborghini, so familiar from the movies, screaming into view, of course - but it also means show-stopping sequences with burning fuel tankers bouncing towards the audience and even a submarine bursting through the ice at one point.

The stakes are high for an envelope pushing production like this but the omens are good.

Sunday Life was one of a handpicked selection of the world's media lucky enough to get a sneaky peek behind the scenes of what's being called the "most spectacular live arena production there has ever been," and what we witnessed was truly magical.

Spirited away from London's King Cross station by train and then driven with military escort to a secret establishment in rural Lincolnshire known only as "Fast Camp", we got to meet the massive team behind the tour, check out some of the original cars that flashed through that unbelievably successful movie franchise and even take a spin with the guys and girls who make up the expert team of stunt drivers on a wet and windy race track.

Sitting in the passenger seat as that practice car screamed around the tarmac with tyres screeching and brake pads shredding was an experience I won't forget in a hurry. The effect was thrilling and nausea-inducing in equal measure and like all good fun fair thrill rides, you wanted to get straight back on the moment it finished.

Leading the team of stunt experts on the production is Belfast man Chris Burns.

Fast & Furious Live

"It's a dream job," he says as I try to stop my head spinning, "I've been driving for many years now, working on motor shows and things like Top Gear Live. We've been working on this for a long time, keeping it under wraps from the world.

"We've got 11 drivers and we're here until the end of November then we move to another secret location where we integrate the drivers and the cars with all the technology aspects of the show that leaves us ready for the tour." Being a huge fan of the films makes the day go just a little faster for Chris I imagine.

"Office nerd is more like it," he says laughing, "I'm obsessed with them. I'm a car guy through and through so for me everything has to be as accurate as it can possibly be. Ultimately that's what the fans would expect and we strive to deliver the most accurate experience we possibly can."

With the smell of burning rubber and exhaust fumes hanging heavy in the atmosphere of the cavernous aircraft hangers that double for temporary race tracks, I grab a word with the show's writer and creative director Rowland French.

As we stroll through the massed ranks of iconic movie cars and souped-up vehicles laid out before us he stresses that getting it right is this production's prime priority.

Fast & Furious Live

"Authenticity is so important," he says over the roar of that famous Dodge Charger. "The fact that I'm a huge fan and that I got the nuances of the Fast and Furious films was the reason why Universal entertained the idea in the first place."

The fact the film studio have backed this live venture suggests no expense has been spared to bring the show to life for arena audiences the world over.

"I've spent a lot of time with their production guys and their film-makers," he continues, "but the one who was most influential for me was Vin Diesel, he's a producer within the franchise so I needed to go and see him as part of my journey. I showed him the production and he understood completely. He said his character Dom has to appear throughout this show, talking to the crowd so he's been a real guiding principle for me".

To say Fast and Furious Live is a huge production is a vast understatement. This is a show that takes 36 trucks to transport its gear from venue to venue, there are 41 vehicles involved and it all cost a mere £15million to develop from page to stage. The pressure must be massive but French carries the load lightly.

A veteran of Top Gear he knows what makes a project like this work and for this potential game-changer, he's rustled up a two-hour show that crams in 18 incredible stunts with real actors and a storyline he's written himself.

Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel

He tells me he'd finished his story when the sixth film was out but the studio were keen he incorporate some of the action from number seven. This he did but the slow-moving nature of Hollywood meant the powers-that-be Stateside wanted to keep adding to the mix.

"The studio rang me up," he remembers with a smile, "and said Rowley, 'I know you're finished but we really want something from film eight in it,' so I flew out and watched a really early cut and, of course, they have a submarine scene in the final act of the movie. With our 3D mapping we were able to turn the arena into an Arctic tundra so it was really exciting even if my team rolled their eyes when I came back saying we've got this great scene with a submarine chasing everyone, it breaks the ice with a huge explosion as it goes and they're like, 'Fantastic, couldn't you have picked something a little simpler'."

Vin Diesel in Fast & Furious

Spectacular is the name of the game here though and Belfast is in for a real treat when the adrenaline-pumping, heart-jumping thrills arrive at the SSE in May. For French, whose mother hails from Derry, it feels like a homecoming and for stuntman Chris it was a gig the tour just had to take in.

"I sit in the office beside the guy who decides where we're going," he tells me, "and I'm like, 'We have to go to Belfast,' and ultimately I got my wish. I literally can't wait to roll into town next year and say to all my fellow countrymen and women to come and see this awesome bit of entertainment. It's going to be mind-blowing."

  • Fast and Furious Live pulls into Belfast's SSE Arena from May 4-6, 2018. Tickets are on sale now from all usual Ticketmaster outlets.

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