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Review: Ned Boulting's Tour de Ned stageshow

16 Oct 2018

Ned Boulting recaps the 2018 Tour de France in this freewheeling one-man show

Cyclist Rating: 
• Funny • Insightful • Idiosyncratic
• Perhaps too niche to pass off as a night at the theatre to your partner

The 2018 Tour de France had moments of drama, a few upsets, and a couple of dull days. But was there enough comedy to sustain a two-hour one-man show? Ned Boulting thinks so, and having followed every second of the race as part of ITV’s coverage he should know.

Off the back of that experience, he’s put together the Tour de Ned. Described as 'reliving the best moments from the summer as seen from the sometimes wonky perspective of a man paid to watch the telly and shout out names as riders climb, crash, stop for a poo and attack each other,' it’s touring for 21 dates, one for each stage of the race.

I caught an early performance in cycling’s spiritual home of Richmond-upon-Thames.

Buy a ticket for Ned Boulting's Tour de Ned from Ticketmaster

Ned out of context

So used to seeing Boulting as the unflappable presenter of ITV’s cycling coverage, at first watching him dashing about on stage is a bit like discovering your teacher is in a rock band.

Initially disconcerting, happily it turns out that Boulting also has a good line in slapstick and comedy along with his obvious presenting talents.

Funny and self-effacing he’s a likeable guide to the world’s largest sporting event. A very personal take on the Tour, the unglamorous stream of cheap hotels and crap food that forms the backdrop of his yearly dash after it yields much of the evening’s material.

It’s strange seeing someone you feel you know well in a different scenario. Boulting plays himself, but it’s a slightly different Boulting from the Boulting on the telly.

In the same way, it’s a show about the Tour de France but also about commentating on the Tour de France.

Although not present, his relationship with co-presenter and former racer David Millar also features heavily. Part dandy, part naughty child, there’s enough genuine affection for Boulting to get some funny and close to the bone jokes out of Millar’s foibles both past and current.

Locked in either a car or a darkened commentary box for days on end, there’s also the sense that Boulting might be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, turning up on stage aboard a David Millar special edition Brompton and wearing a David Millar branded t-shirt.

Thinking only of the racing

But what about the racing? Before the show, I caught up with Boulting. Like the hack I am, I tried to get him to dish the dirt regarding the presenter's opinions of the riders on who he commentates.

Sadly I found myself believing him when he claimed all he really cares about is great bike racing, something evidenced by his current crush on Quick-Steps Floors’s Julian Alaphilippe.

Certainly, there’s no patriotic twinge to any of his work, unlike some of the other nation’s commentary squads. He’s scrupulously even-handed.

So where does he extract the comedy from? There’s a very good impression of Team Sky director David Brailsford, involving what looks like a condom.

In fact, ragging on Team Sky and Chris Froome provides a fair bit of mileage. However, despite mentions of potential scandals - a duvet sized jiffy bag and a man-sized inhaler are both props - the overall tone is joshing, rather than biting.

Clearly, he’s not alienated either too much, as Froome himself makes a pre-recorded appearance to provide the punchline to one of the shows better jokes.

This is perhaps a bit of a shame. A backstage view of the Tour’s many absurdities and transgressions might have made a more waspish show. Instead, Boulting sticks to a relatively straight retelling of the race’s 21 stages.

Hindsight and insight

Here for cycling fans, hindsight translates into insight. For instance, Boulting's exposition of what should have been a snooze-fest first stage shows exactly how its many incidents actually shaped the rest of the race.

Richie Porte and Adam Yates crashed, Nairo Quintana conceded serious time, Peter Sagan failed to win despite being the favourite, and Froome lost over a minute to Geraint Thomas that he’d never make back.

Besides the day-to-day action of each stage, the history of the race puts in multiple appearances, as does the French countryside.

Making a point to visit the main attraction of whatever backwater he and Millar find themselves in, Boulting’s show is also part-travelogue, in a format that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Tim Moore’s excellent book.

There are also several philosophical digressions.

Ghosts and hallucinations

Thinking up things to say during the long hours that make up the opening stages can’t be easy. And when on the flat 231km stage from Fougères to Chartres absolutely nothing of note happens, it engenders something like a mental collapse in the host, who finds himself having unhappy hallucinations in a hotel bathroom.

Thankfully the race eventually picks up, allowing the drama to switch from the inside of Boulting’s head to the tarmac by the time the mountains come into view.

Reliving the event at a breakneck speed was in itself enjoyable as a cycling nerd. Although if you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil the ending.

On the way, we get all the thrills of a disappointing sprint stage as viewed from the side of the road, along with a caravan trip to Dutch corner on Alpe d’Huez and a visit from the ghost of Henri Desgrange.

Towards the close of the show, a section answering questions jotted down by the audience during the interval proves just how quick off the mark Boulting is. Despite being unscripted, it got some of the biggest laughs.

All in it’s quite a madcap mix and even by the end, I was struggling as to how I’d describe the show. I thought it was funny.

However, my girlfriend who’s a bike racing fan suggested that most other halves present ‘could be held up as the definition of longsuffering’.

Buy a ticket for Ned Boulting's Tour de Ned from Ticketmaster

Maybe it’s one for the geeks then. Still, the reaction in the theatre was overwhelmingly positive.

'I wanted to literally recreate the Tour in the most random and peculiar way' Boulting explained before the show.

'Bringing it back to life stage-by-stage with all its key moments, its dramas, its absurdities, and poignancies.'

That’s probably as good a description of what to expect as any.

Tour de Ned: Remaining dates

Tickets here:  

Tuesday 16th October: Leamington Spa - Royal Spa Centre
Sunday 21st October: Edinburgh - Assembly Roxy
Monday 22nd October: Arbroath - The Webster Theatre
Monday 29th October: High Wycombe - Wycombe Swan
Tuesday 30th October: Hertford - Theatre
Wednesday 31st October: Stamford - Corn Exchange
Thursday 1st November: Newbury - Corn Exchange
Sunday 4th November: Cleckheaton - Town Hall
Tuesday 6th November: Ilkley - King's Hall
Wednesday 7th November: Preston - Charter Theatre
Friday 9th November: Southport - The Atkinson
Thursday 15th November: Whitley Bay - Playhouse
Friday 16th November: Scarborough - Spa Theatre
Saturday 17th November: Lincoln - Theatre Royal

Varies, see event and venue sites

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