Review: A Wild Life: An Audience with Steve Backshall, Festival Theatre

Steve Backshall
Steve Backshall
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SPIDERS. Why are so many people afraid of them? And are they justified in feeling so? Steve Backshall doesn’t know the answer to the first question, but he does tell us that arachnophobia is definitely not justified.


And he’ll carry a black widow spider on his hand to prove it.

On this UK-wide tour, Steve Backshall talks about his life as a wildlife television presenter. Through a mixture of Powerpoint slides, video clips and anecdotes, he persuades the audience that wild animals aren’t naturally dangerous to humans. He argues mankind’s tendency to fear and abuse animals rather than find ways to work with the natural world is as harmful to us as to it is to them.

Except ants. Ants come second only to the mosquito in terms of natural evil, 

Questions from the audience ranging from “Which animal does the biggest poos?” (the African elephant, closely followed by the rhino) to “What is your favourite octopus?” (the Indonesian mimic octopus) show off Backshall’s impressive bank of natural science trivia.

But the breadth of Backshall’s knowledge can also be a disadvantage. The first half of the show feels bitty and disorganised because of the sheer number of items squeezed into it.

In the second half, where Backshall tells the story of a single expedition to find tigers in Bhutan, the show really comes into its own. It’s 
impossible not to get emotionally involved, and it’s tempting to run out of the theatre screaming for the blood of tiger poachers.

His passion for animals – and presumably weightlifting – is contagious, but Backshall is first and foremost a normal man with a slightly dodgy dress sense. With ironed jeans and shiny new trainers, not to mention his kiddy-TV mannerisms, it’s hard to imagine Backshall white-water rafting through Bhutan. That must be why his adventures are so exciting.

“Steve Blackshall is better than Santa,” said a young man near me in the audience. I won’t print his name in case Santa’s reading.

Run ended. The novel Tiger Wars is available now.