'It's wonderful to think that my passions have stayed the same and I haven't grown up at all', says Sheffield actor Michael Palin

The term ‘Renaissance Man’ could have been invented for Sheffield’s Sir Michael Palin. Over a wonderful, 50-year career, he has been responsible for ground-breaking comedy, iconic movies, bestselling novels and non-fiction books and some of the most memorable travelogues ever committed to film. There is nothing he cannot do.

Thursday, 13th June 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Thursday, 13th June 2019, 6:00 am
Michael Palin. Photo by Andy Hollingworth.

But in spite of this array of achievements in other fields, Michael says that his first love has always been live performance. He is now returning to it with a brilliant new show entitled ‘Erebus, Python and Other Stories’ which will be coming to a Chesterfield Winding Wheel on June 20.

In the first half of this marvellous show, Michael will be discussing ‘Erebus: The Story of a Ship’, his gripping, bestselling book about a pioneering 19th century ship, HMS Erebus.

He recounts the thrilling story of the resilient little ship that battled through both the Antarctic and the Arctic during the 1840s. Using a rich selection of illustrations, he will conjure up the triumph and the tragedy of the ship’s short, yet eventful life and explain why he was so drawn to it.

After the interval, Michael regales the audience his own life story, showing how his three favourite subjects at school, (Geography, History and Comedy), have influenced his subsequent life.

Speaking ahead of the show, Michael spoke of his excitement about returning to the live arena.

He said: “It is absolutely my favourite form of performing because you’re right in front of the people you’re talking to. There is no camera in the way and no editor to put it together later.

“It always is what it is. It’s happening there and then in that theatre. It’s never exactly the same two nights running. That can depend on the audiences as much as yourself.

“Sometimes it clicks wonderfully well and smoothly, and others you have to work a bit harder. But it’s the best form of performing there is.”

Michael, whose acclaimed movies have included the Monty Python films, Brazil, The Missionary, A Fish Called Wanda and The Death of Stalin, added that live performances are where it all began for him.

“I was brought up on live performance. I first started performing am-dram as a child at the Library Theatre in Sheffield. Then at Oxford University, we wrote and performed our own material. Then I got rather lured away into TV and film, but I’ve always loved live performance.

“When we have done Monty Python tours in front of an audience, they have always been hilarious - sometimes disastrous, sometimes wonderful. But the great thing is you have nothing between you and the audience. There is no one there to make it better or easier.”

The widely-loved performer, who is an experienced traveller who has made several lauded travel documentaries which took him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil, also explained why the story of the Erebus is so fascinating.

“Its first trip was triumphant; it made a hugely successful voyage of discovery to the Antarctic. However, its second voyage ended in disaster. Attempting to find the North West Passage, it disappeared in the Arctic in 1845.”

Michael’s tour will be supported by local bookshops and signed copies of his books will be available to buy at the theatre.

Michael, who earned an extremely well-deserved knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours’ List, said: “People asked ‘why are you suddenly writing history books about ships?’. Then I thought back to my school days and realised the things I liked most then were history, geography and making people laugh. Those three things kept me going at school, and they are still keeping me going now.

“Normally you grow out of things as you grow older and settle down. But it’s rather wonderful to think that in my mid-70s, the enthusiasms I had as a child are exactly the same enthusiasms I have now. They have informed all my work.”

“What you’re good at when your nine is maybe exactly what you’ll be good at when you’re in your mid- 70s. I don’t know if that’s reassuring, but it is to me. It shows I haven’t grown up at all. That should be celebrated, and I’m hoping people will come to celebrate it at my shows.”

In the show, Michael, is also eager to emphasise the significance of travel.

He said: “There are two cliches about travel. The first is that absence makes the heart grow fonder and the second is that it broadens the mind. They may be cliches, but unfortunately, they are still the best ways of expressing why travel is so important.

“When you travel somewhere, no matter how much reading you might do in advance, in the end it’s up to you to get to grips with what you’re seeing, to learn how to deal with the journey physically, to be able to keep your mind open to the people you meet and not to impose yourself on anyone.

“Travel is a wonderful way of widening of your experience. It makes you more aware. You look at things in a global way and see the world from different perspectives.”

Michael added that he hopes audiences will celebrate the diversity of all the things when they see ‘Erebus, Python and Other Stories’.

He said: “It’s rather like a Python show – you give people an awful lot and they can pick out what they like. Hopefully there will be an abundance of material they’ll be able to enjoy.”