The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live
When The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first produced for BBC Radio in the late 70’s, creator Douglas Adams said he wanted it to sound like a rock album. In this latest chapter in the multi-media life of HHGG, director and one time Adams collaborator Dirk Maggs successfully reinterprets the series as a rock concert, with a live band, songs, and plenty of audience participation.
Reuniting the surviving cast members from the radio series, this live show stems from a shorter production staged for HitchCon in 2009. Now Maggs has faced the challenge of bringing five novels worth of material into a two and a half hour show. His solution is a completely original storyline, familiar in some places, but thrillingly new in others.
The first half takes a truncated canter through the first novel, with Deep Thought providing the opening rather than Arthur Dent’s stand off (lay off?) with Mr Prosser. After the interval, we are thrown into a sort of Hitchhikers Greatest Hits, threaded through the Milliways narrative of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, with a healthy dose of Eddies in the Space Time Continuum. By the show’s end, Maggs has managed to construct a new continuity that nonetheless can be slotted into the Canon by those who care about such things.
The staging is simple but effective. A large video screen displays backdrops and cut down guide animations which, while no match for Kevin Davies’ work on the original TV series, have their own charm, with a lovely nod towards the IPad and its apps. Following the death of Voice of the Book Peter Jones, guest narrators have filled in for this touring production (I was lucky enough to catch former Python and friend of Adams Terry Jones in this role at the Hackney Empire). Sound effects are largely created live using foley effects, though depending on your seat in the theatre these were a little difficult to see at times.
Perhaps the most remarkable effect is Marvin the Paranoid Android. A combination of newly recorded vocals by original voice of Marvin Stephen Moore, and a life size puppet animated by Dirk’s son Tom, this achieves the best realisation of the character bar none, wringing real emotion from the paranoid android. It is fitting that Marvin even gets to perform two songs in the second act.
The spirit of Douglas Adams is never far away, not just with his timeless script, but in visual references around the stage and also with the reuse of his performance as Agrajag, recorded before his death and previously heard in the later radio series.
Every fan will come away from this production with their own highlights. Mine were Arthur’s battle with the Nutrimatic Machine, and Phil Pope’s attempts to mix a genuine Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. In fact Pope, who provided much of the music in the original series, frequently stole the stage from under the feet of the main cast members.
But the greatest joy is that Maggs has fashioned a version of HitchHikers that fits the stage perfectly. Adams himself continually reworked all his creations to suit different media, as the audience is reminded in an audio clip that opens this show. In that clip, Adams states that one should always aim to annoy the fans. Maggs has succeeded in creating a fan pleasing show that will surely only annoy the most trenchant purists.