Review: Benedict Allen Ultimate Explorer, 2018 UK theatre tour

Review by Jake Kendall-Ashton

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Dressed as a ready-to-go explorer in poly-pocketed cargo trousers and a khaki shirt, Benedict Allen begins his live show in Oundle, Northamptonshire, by explaining how his carefree upbringing in Shepherd’s Bush laid the foundations for a career in adventure. He gesticulates with zest on stage as he describes the little boy who had more than a little intrigue in collecting fossils and accumulating enough wild animal skeletons to turn his bedroom into a natural history museum. Even as an infant, Allen knew his driving ambition in life was to see as much of the world as possible.

Allen has an easy-going presence on stage and conveys with light-hearted humour various stories from his earliest expeditions to South America, Papua New Guinea, Russia and the Namib desert. He even manages to add amusement to a tale of a months-long initiation ceremony during his first visit to the Yaifo hill tribe of Papua New Guinea that involved being stripped naked and repeatedly lashed with bamboo in order to graduate from adolescence and ‘become as strong as a crocodile’.

He also talks of his sled dog-powered journey across Russia’s barren and iced over Bering Strait in 2000, describing the individual quirks of his 12-strong band of hounds including leader Jeremy and his best friend Bernard. Even while recounting another voyage, this time across the Namib desert on camelback, Allen speaks with humility and modesty to make the role of the expeditioner accessible to the audience. He also avoids emitting the Action Man-type bravado often endorsed by some contemporary so-called adventurers.

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During the 20-minute interval, Allen retires to the back of the Great Hall at Oundle School and happily speaks to members of the audience and welcomes any number of questions. The second-half of the talk is focused on Allen’s much-publicised return to Papua New Guinea in 2017, which ended with the then 57-year-old contracting malaria and dengue fever and eventually being evacuated by a Daily Mail-commissioned helicopter. Accompanied by previously unseen video footage, Allen describes with vigour his quest to rediscover the Yaifo tribe of the PNG highlands and the circumstances that lead to the headline-dominating rescue. Prior to his situation taking a perilous turn for the worse, there is a stunning moment caught on camera was when Allen reunites with the leader of the far-removed tribe, a man called Corsei, after 30 years.

Sadly, this was the penultimate date of the adventurer’s 2018 UK tour (the final show is November 27 in Birmingham) but should Allen release further dates or hold another theatre tour in the future, his storytelling makes for an inspiring evening of entertainment and can be recommended definitely.