I think it was the recent realisation that for nineteen months I’ve hardly been anywhere much and certainly not left the country that edged me towards my most recent choice of show. My last time on a plane was in February 2020 on a short break to Madeira just before everything kicked off and since then planned and semi planned trips to Egypt, Madagascar, Mauritius, America, and Portugal have come and gone – although admittedly the last one went by the board due to a sick cat rather than anything more globally challenging. Listening to what someone else had to say about foreign travel was therefore going to be either comforting or supremely provoking but the show Tales Of A Reluctant World Traveler had been beckoning for several days now.
It’s a solo show (not really a play as such) which recounts the exploits of Bostonian writer Randy Ross who, upon being made redundant and being elbowed by his partner, decided it was a now or never moment to pack up a rucksack and do a grand tour. The trip was a four month marathon spanning four continents principally designed to take Ross to famed water sports locations fuelled by the enthusiastic writings of travel guide authors. The outcomes, however, were not always positive and Ross’s particular take is to make comedy out of the various mishaps and encounters that he has en route. Many of these are to do with his health as he lists all the things he might catch and informs us that the majority of the places he visits are known as the diarrhoea hotspots (if you’ll forgive the term) of the world; this is particularly important once we eventually come to hear about the one thing he fears above all others … no spoilers!
The first half of the show is engaging enough, although as the writer/performer piles on the detail of the down sides of travelling I kept thinking to myself “You should be so lucky!” Ross is an interesting travel guide and it’s no surprise that the show started out as a book which was written to counter the sunny optimism of other examples of the genre. However, as the tone remains comically downbeat it does all seem a little repetitive and you begin to wonder just why he’s putting himself through what seems more like an endurance test rather than a positive travel experience. Concerns about crime in Venezuela, the weather in Greece, sharks in South Africa the plague of flies in Australia and health concerns just about everywhere raise memories of some of the writings of Bill Bryson; the latter though tends to level things off by looking at the good as well as the bad and the ugly. Ross’s take becomes a bit relentless, and I kept expecting there to be a change of mood to reveal some of the wonders and awesomeness that might usually go hand in hand with the downsides – but no!
There is a change halfway through, but it is of content rather than mood. Here Ross turns his attention to how he takes his experiences and tries to turn them into a book and eventually the show which we are watching. Although replete with tribulation, this is not half so interesting, and I’d happily have had a shorter show which concentrated on the travel itself (perhaps leavened with some positivity). It does, though, put the publishing industry into some sort of perspective for those that might be interested in such things.
The show is structured as a talk (really, two talks connected by a thread) and visual interest is aroused by having the speaker as a picture within a picture while the rest of the screen shows some mostly jokey illustrations of the points being made. Although not a great one for sitting through other people’s “here’s what I did on my holidays” photos I would like to have seen some of the wonders of nature that must have formed at least part of the make up of the trip. Looks like I’m going to have to go back to my own albums and keep browsing through the brochures – one day….one day!