Trav­ellers’ tales

Two ex­plor­ers are swap­ping their global ad­ven­tur­ing for cosy evenings in Som­er­set the­atres this month. SU CAROLL speaks to Bene­dict Allen and Si­mon Reeve ahead of their first ever the­atre tours

Somerset Life - - THEATRE - A WORLD OF WON­DER

Ex­plorer Bene­dict Allen was rel­a­tively well known for his tele­vi­sion ad­ven­tures in six se­ries of pro­grammes for the BBC in­clud­ing Skele­ton Coast, Last of the Men, Ice Dogs and Ad­ven­tures for Boys: The Lost World of Ry­der Hag­gard – the ti­tles alone give you a sense of der­ring do.

But in Novem­ber last year he be­came a house­hold name when he hit the head­lines for be­ing lost in the jun­gle. Bene­dict had un­der­taken a solo ex­pe­di­tion to Pa­pua New Guinea to track down a com­mu­nity he had be­friended 30 years ear­lier. When he failed to meet a flight home, peo­ple started to worry and then the world’s press got in­volved.

“I was look­ing for a lost tribe of peo­ple who were in­cred­i­bly good to me 35 years ago and I wanted to see they were okay. Why not take a phone or a GPS in this day and age? Well, my feel­ing is that I’ve had 35 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence of not do­ing that. I like to look lo­cals in the eye and say we are on equal terms.

“For me it’s my way of ex­plor­ing an­other coun­try and it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to dis­con­nect. We are all ex­plor­ers by na­ture and there’s a huge amount to do out there.”

He will tell the story of his trip – when he also de­vel­oped malaria – plus other ad­ven­tures with never-be­fore-seen ma­te­rial from his trav­els across the globe

in his first the­atre tour Ul­ti­mate Ex­plorer. He hopes it will prove in­ter­est­ing, but also in­stil a lit­tle bit of a sense of ad­ven­ture in the au­di­ence.

“I feel very strongly that chil­dren should grow up as I did, cook­ing sausages on sticks,” he says. “We should be ex­cited by every day and the planet and have small ad­ven­tures. We need to have dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests in life; we are in such dan­ger of be­ing ho­mogenised.

He con­tin­ues: “We hear ter­ri­ble sto­ries about the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment be­ing de­stroyed but we can all be in­quis­i­tive about the world and do some­thing about it. The world is full of won­der and the job of an ex­plorer is to com­mu­ni­cate back, to speak to peo­ple and share those sto­ries.”


The BBC calls Si­mon Reeve “tele­vi­sion’s most ad­ven­tur­ous trav­eller” and with good rea­son. His fas­ci­nat­ing pro­grammes have taken view­ers all around the world - Rus­sia, the Caribbean, the In­dian Ocean, Tropic of Can­cer, the Equa­tor and Burma.

While we can en­joy Si­mon’s take on a coun­try’s his­tory, peo­ple and en­vi­ron­ment from the com­fort of our so­fas, he has been dodg­ing rock­ets on front­lines, hounded by the KGB, track­ing lions on foot and hav­ing close en­coun­ters with some rather dodgy char­ac­ters, many of them armed.

Now a the­atre tour, An Au­di­ence with Si­mon Reeve, goes be­hind the scenes of his trav­els to dis­cover how a 17-year-old who left school with no real qual­i­fi­ca­tions be­came one of our most com­pelling pro­gramme mak­ers.

“I have a slightly pa­thetic back­ground and things got quite low for me when I was a

‘I feel very strongly that chil­dren should grow up as I did, cook­ing sausages on sticks’

teenager,” says Si­mon, who lives with his wife and young son in More­ton­hamp­stead, Devon. “I was on the dole for a while and left school with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions.”

Af­ter some dead end jobs he started as a post­boy on a na­tional news­pa­per and made him­self use­ful in the of­fice, ex­pand­ing his role. He then started trav­el­ling and writ­ing and has a ca­reer of fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences span­ning 15 years.

Si­mon hopes he might in­stil more of a sense of ad­ven­ture in us all. “We have quite a thin ve­neer of order in Bri­tain,” he says. “It’s fine when ev­ery­thing works rea­son­ably well un­til there’s a slight blip – like the first flurry of snow and the Co-op runs out of food. One of the big things to learn from travel, and one of the ways I try and un­der­stand the things I’ve seen, is how ut­terly priv­i­leged we are com­pared to the vast num­ber of peo­ple out there.”

With all his dan­ger­ous en­coun­ters around the globe, how does Si­mon feel about fac­ing a live au­di­ence on his first ever the­atre tour? “The thought of it does be­come more scary as it be­comes more im­mi­nent. The guy whose idea it was was was so con­fi­dent and con­vinc­ing. He said it would be fun. I’d had a few drinks and I signed an agree­ment. Then I thought, ‘what on earth have I signed up for?’

“I love chat­ting about what I’ve done and I’m hop­ing to in­spire peo­ple to push them­selves a bit. It’s easy for us to think that travel is all about get­ting on a bud­get flight and sit­ting by a swim­ming pool. We should take some chances – eat some funny for­eign food and rack up some ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Bene­dict Allen is at the McMil­lan The­atre, Bridg­wa­ter on 14, Cheese & Grain, Frome on 26, Yeovil Octagon, 27 and Bris­tol 1532, 28 Oc­to­ber. Si­mon Reeve is at Yeovil Octagon on 28 Oc­to­ber.

Si­mon Reeve is com­ing to Yeovil this month

ABOVE: Bene­dict Allen with his friend Howard from the Hewa peo­ple of Pa­pua New Guinea

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