Review: Simon Reeve, York Barbican, Friday October 18th 2019

SIMON Reeve arrives onstage at a sold-out York Barbican with the nervous energy of a man who’s been in quite a few “tricky” situations over the years. Known for his compelling BBC series, tonight’s show covers what he does and why he does it.

Dispelling the myth that travel documentary makers come from a privileged upbringing, he guides us through difficult teenage years culminating with the wise words of his Job Centre adviser to “take things step by step”. A job in The Sunday Times postroom leads to investigative journalism covering terrorism and the first book about Al Qaeda well before September 2001.

Reeve canters through highlights of his series including “Meet the Stans” and “Place That Don’t Exist”, culminating with current BBC Series “The Americas.” There are lots of stories to tell, and his description of a teenage volunteer ambulance team in Central America is especially poignant.

Lighter moments, like “wifi-enabled donkeys”, balance the darker aspects of conflict zones and poverty helping the evening segue between laughter and ‘pin-drop’ silences. The few video clips used include enjoyable ‘behind the scenes’ phone footage.

Reeve is self-aware of his “strange, wonderful job”, emphasising it’s the people he meets who really it worthwhile. The show concludes with a polemic on the need for political action on the environment noting that tourism can protect locations and wildlife.

Audience Q&A includes tough questions on carbon emissions and his family’s reaction to his job. Reeve responds passionately and honestly, admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers. If his public service broadcasting goal is to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ then he certainly delivered that on his journey to York.

By Dave Robertson