|It's on stage, but it's a radio show. Except it's not on the|
radio. So you can't tune in to another station.
|Vogons: the galaxy's demolition men. With (front row) a |
Vogon Miley Cyrus. You know, for their wrecking ball.
For those not familiar with the story, the basic premise is that the Earth is a huge computer, designed to find the answer to the ultimate question of "life, the universe and everything". The program will take ten million years to run and organic life forms (specifically human beings) form part of its components. So far, so SciFi. But this is not the Matrix or even Doctor Who and the story really starts when, in a flourish of mischievous, humour, the Earth is destroyed five minutes before the program is complete. Destroyed, I should add, by an alien constructor fleet (Vogons!) to make way for a hyper-space bypass!
Luckily, one human (Arthur Dent) survives, saved by his friend Ford Prefect who, he is surprised to learn, is really an alien from Betelgeuse. Ford has been researching the Earth in order to update its entry in the best-selling travel guide The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a kind of portable galactic version of Wikipedia, known as much for its inaccuracies as for the fact that emblazoned on its cover is one very important piece of advice: "Don't panic"!
|Arthur Dent. Now iconic. But not|
as much as his dressing gown.
Douglas Adams delights in playing with the English language, possibly more so than any author since Lewis Carroll and The Hitchhiker's Guide must have spawned nearly as many quotable lines as Monty Python. In addition, like Carroll's own Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Hitchhiker's Guide also boasts a unique cast of bizarre and memorable characters. It may not have a hookah smoking caterpillar or a disappearing cat but it does have a two-headed, three-armed egomaniac called Zaphod Beeblebrox (Galactic President, super-thief and creator of the aforementioned pan-galactic gargle blaster!), a manically depressed robot named Marvin ("Life; who needs it?"!), and an absent-minded designer of planets named Slartibartfast ("It scares the willies out of me!").
A whole new life, stretching out ...
So how well does this stage production measure up to the other versions of Douglas Adams's whimsical masterpiece?
|Zaphod, Arthur and Ford. An infinitely|
The first act hurtles through much of the "classic" episodes from radio and television, possibly moving too fast to give the comedy as much room as it really needs to breathe, but - for the assembled faithful in the audience (myself included) - that's forgivable. There's a lot of material to squeeze in and if some has to be truncated or hurried in order to cover more ground, it's a small price to pay!
The second act, however, fares less well. In a frantic attempt to include something, no matter how little or irrelevant, from every book, spin-off and musical cash-in (even a single by Marvin not featured in any of the shows!), the production loses direction. The plot becomes rambling and incomprehensible. Even the scenes which are included are often shortened, their punchlines cut so the cast can stumble scrambling into another.
|Two-headed alien; sexy babe; and a robot. Everything a good |
SciFi show needs. With a man in a dressing gown.
|Marvin: the original paranoid|
With a broadly satisfactory first act and a disconcertingly unfocused second, how then should this production of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy be remembered? Like the movie, I can't see it winning any new fans. The plot was just too scrambled and so much of the humour was marred by savage, injudicious editing and hasty delivery. However, my guess is that this show was never intended to appeal to the uninitiated. This is a show for the existing fan base. I doubt there were many in the audience last Sunday who weren't already familiar with one or other of the show's previous incarnations and, for them, there is a lot to enjoy.
It doesn't matter if some lines aren't delivered with perfect comic timing. The audience already knows them by heart and happily mouths each one along with the actors. Many of the key cast members are the original radio and TV actors, reprising their roles after a gap of more than 30 years. It's a joyful, joyous reunion and the audience is invited to be part of it. Just hearing Simon Jones (Arthur Dent) bemoan that he "never could get the hang of Thursdays" with perfect deadpan Britishness is enough to roll back the years, and there's simply no substitute for Stephen Moore (Marvin) miserably commenting on the sunset over an alien planet: "I've seen it; it's rubbish!"
Douglas Adams died in 2001 and, as the cast returns to the stage to take their bows, they turn and raise their arms, directing our attention to an image of Adams projected onto a screen above the stage. It's a fitting finale. As wonderful as the cast is, the real stars of The Hitchhiker's Guide will always be the author and the obvious delight he took in playing with the English language. If you're not familiar with the show already, the Radio Show Live is probably not the best of introductions to this SciFi Wonderland, but you really should seek out a copy of the original books or the TV or radio shows. Oh, and in case you have any difficulty understanding Adamsian English, don't forget to slip a Babel fish into your ear first!
What's your favourite version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Book, film, TV, stage or radio show? Let us know. Oh, and if you've seen or are planning to see the UK stage version, let us know what you think. Was it as welcome as a towel? Or did it just hang in the air, the way that bricks don't?