WHAT: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live!
WHERE: Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
WHEN: 21 June 2012
In the unchartered backwaters of space lies an insignificant little blue-green planet. In the late 1970s, this planet produced a wholly remarkable radio show that made people happy in the very same way that bricks don’t.
In 2001 the ape-descendant responsible for coming up with the idea of the radio show passed away, but the radio show was still being talked about. Now, in 2012, it has been turned into a stage show. Perhaps it was inevitable – after all, the radio show turned into a book, a TV series, more books, illustrated books, a Hollywood film and a towel.
The original cast have returned to play their parts: Simon Jones as Arthur Dent (in a dressing gown and all!), Geoff McGivern as Ford Prefect, Susan Sheridan as Trillian, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the voice (not the body) of Stephen Moore as Marvin. There are a rotating set of actors playing the part of the narrator, the Book. For this particular performance it was Christopher Timothy.
Armed with scripts, they took to the stage to face an audience of all ages.
If you’re a Hitchhiker’s fan and can get to any of these performances, you have got to see this show. Not just because it’s very funny, but because it has the original radio cast. Without their voice talents, the radio show wouldn’t have been a success, and then Hitchhiker’s wouldn’t even be a footnote in scifi comedy history. Two of the cast even played their radio parts in the old TV series, and Simon Jones even made a cameo in the film.
The radio show is truly meant to be just that, a radio show. That’s why the actors have the scripts with them, and stand at microphones acting out their parts in front of a live audience, like back when TV broadcasts were still black and white and, well, rare. A couple of guys at a desk produced the sound effects and you can actually purchase a download of the full show for just under a tenner from the website, provided you’re in the UK. (Just need to wait for it to be added.)
Acting-wise, I can’t fault any of them. In fact, the Squeeze said in the interval that a lot of actors today could learn a lot from watching these guys. There was the occasional slip-up, but not a lot, and the ones that were there were turned into a joke.
The one who fluffed up the most amount of lines was actually the narrator, who seemed to get something wrong and had to start again in (what at least felt like) most of his injects. At one point, an audience member even held up a “DON’T PANIC” speech bubble, which I don’t know if he noticed. Timothy did have a voice remarkably similar to that of Peter Jones, the Book in the original radio series, though, so we’ll forgive him. Of all the potential actors listed in the programme as playing the Book, he was actually the one neither of us had heard of, which is a bit of a shame, but on the other hand, probably hadn’t heard of a bunch of the other actors either. (Cambridge get John Lloyd [if you're a Douglas Adams fan, you'll know who he is] as the Book, London get Terry Jones and Edinburgh Neil Gaiman. Just for comparison.)
As for the story itself, act one was essentially the plot of the first book, starting with Ford rescuing Arthur from the Earth and ending with hostile forces on Magrathea. Act two was a mix of the other four books and the radio show. They even lampshaded that big bits were missing, by saying Arthur wasn’t aware of them because those things hadn’t happened to him yet. He did end up in a cave being verbally abused by Agrajag (a flapping umbrella), Ford modified a security robot at Infinidim Enterprises, and they all went to Milliways. The Book Mark II and Random were also in the story.
There was a band on stage, who opened the show with playing for some time before jokingly going into the Doctor Who theme, and finally eventually got into Journey of the Sorceror (the Hitchhiker’s theme). Other music bits were a Krikkit man singing at Milliways, the NutriMatic drinks machine’s “Share and Enjoy”, a song I’m guessing is the single Marvin released in the 80s and, as an encore, Marvin’s lullaby. The only downside was that it was difficult to make out the lyrics of the songs. Maybe it’s easier on the recording. They all went down really well with the audience, though.
The show is an experience, and for Hitchhiker’s fans, there are many things to love about it. Vogon poetry (not “Oh freddled gruntbuggly”, which I expected, but something to do with trousers), Vogon masks, the brilliant lines we all know and love, hints at things from some incarnation or other of the story, and just jolly good fun.
As a backdrop on the stage was a canvas where they projected images to set the scene, Guide entries and so on, and in the very end, they filled up the circle with a picture of Douglas Adams and the cast held up their thumbs to him in tribute, and it very nearly brought me to tears. This isn’t just a bunch of actors cashing in on a paycheck, this is a bunch of actors paying tribute to a legend they helped shape, and the big man who invented it all.
If I had any criticism at all, it would be that the merchandise is on the pricey side. The programme is £15, as is a very small towel, for instance. I thought the foam speech bubble was £15 too (so it seemed at the table?), but apparently it’s a somewhat more realistic £6 according to the web shop. Had the merchandise been cheaper, I would have got more than the programme, as I would’ve got something as a small gift to the friend who introduced me both to the books and the radio series when I was a teenager. Alas, we only bought a programme, but I will buy the download when it’s added.
Almost, but not quite, entirely like a most perfect evening.
5 out of 5 babel fish.