Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Live

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show – Live!
Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of England lies a city called Newcastle. It’s possible that the ape-descended life forms of the city still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

It was in this particular part of our utterly insignificant blue green planet that we saw something we never expected to see. It is not unnatural for people to make this particular observation about Newcastle. However, little did I think when I accidentally tuned my Sub-Etha radio into a certain radio show back in the very early 1980s that I would eventually see (most of) the original cast perform – live, on stage – the story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal is steeped in history. Plays featuring the works of Dickens were performed there while Dickens was still very much alive. I had been there once before, sitting up amongst the gods, to see Elaine Paige. This time I was in a central seat on Row 2 of the Stalls. So close I could almost reach out and stick my finger down the throat of a Vogon.

With a live band and Billy Boyd as the guest ‘Voice of the Book’ (the guest spot changes frequently during the tour) we were all set for lift-off. Minutes later, after a rousing and moving musical treat of One of These Days and Journey of the Sorcerer played back to back, our first two heroes took to the stage, looking dramatically skywards at the Vogon constructor fleet. Simon Jones as Arthur Dent! Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect! Two cool froods who really know where their towels are.

Before too long we got to see Mark Wing-Davey and Susan Sheridan as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian respectively, followed swiftly by an imaginative – and highly effective – stage version of Marvin, the paranoid android.

The first half of the show condensed the first five original episodes into a package of ‘greatest hits’ moments. We experienced Arthur Dent’s distress at seeing first his house being scheduled for demolition and then his entire planet; we suffered the terrible punishment of listening to Vogon poetry (frankly, I’ve heard worse verse from humans – and I will recite some of it to you personally if you ever upset me); took a trip to Milliways (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) and found out the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything (which ended up being redundant as we never discovered what the actually question was).

The material was very familiar; we have grown up listening to, reading and watching all of the various Hitchhiker adventures in a myriad of different formats.

There were occasional fluffs - which were impossible to successfully disguise in front of an audience who could doubtless quote the original lines word for word - and Simon Jones improvised a little bit of comedy business with the tea cups dispensed by the Nutri-Matic machine on board The Heart of Gold.

Following a short break, part two brought a much sketchier experience. Bits and pieces from the subsequent radio shows and novels were re-enacted for our enjoyment, although the narrative took a back seat at this point. Random (daughter of Arthur and Trillian) and Agrajag made notable appearances (the latter played by Dirk Maggs, armed with a huge umbrella)Time travel and alternative existences were used to explain away various discrepancies in logic but it didn’t really matter. A clever line about whole chapters missing from Arthur’s life – delivered with a knowing look to the audience – emphasised that we were all there as part of a celebration and not to discuss the finer points of a serious text.

To top it all, we were even treated to two songs from Marvin.

Will there be another show to explore the missing bits and pieces? We didn’t get a look at the B-Ark, for example, although there was a prominent rubber duck to prompt our memories. It certainly seemed to be a sell out at the Theatre Royal, so a sequel must be an option.

It is said that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Yet I feel sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience to feel the decades fall away and recapture one’s lost youth; a time when men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Meanwhile, the tour goes on…catch it if you can.

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