Category Archives: Theatre

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Live!

Hitchhiker's Live!
Hitchhiker's Live! (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

In honesty I wasn’t sure what this would be like. Expectations were high, from me at least, and it would be Gillian’s first experience of Douglas Adams‘ seminal work. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a piece of fiction that means a lot to me for various reasons…

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: The Radio Show – Live!

I began the evening stood outside the theatre where I managed to meet the lovely Susan Sheridan who signed my old copy of the original scripts. As time wore on, I realised that the rest of the cast must already have arrived so I settled in the bar with Gillian and “enjoyed” a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (JD, Archer’s, Blue Curacuao and fresh orange). At £8 I was hoping for something that at least tasted nice while it smashed my brains in and this didn’t. Sadly/luckily I didn’t have time for a Babel Fish or the other cocktail which I can’t remember the name of.

Our seats weren’t far from the front and we sat down to await the start. Certainly the set looked nice with a series of microphones at the front, a small desk to the left, orchestra/band to the rear and a comfy chair on a plinth for – I assumed – The Book (as read at the Glasgow performances by Billy Boyd). In addition, there was a nice “swoosh” motif across the back with a circular screen to the right. The entirety of this, it turned out, was an unusually-shaped projection screen which was used to good effect throughout the show.

I won’t spoil any of the events in the show, but suffice to say that it’s certainly not just a simple rendering of the original radio series. It has been adapted, tweaked and added to in the spirit of every version of the story so far (by Dirk Maggs). The basis of the story, many key events and a lot of the dialogue is as the original. However, there is a wealth of new material and some of the best lines have been moved about a bit mainly – I reckon – to reduce the show to a manageable length. The adaptation I saw a year or so ago by Strathclyde University drama group was superb but a little long at almost three hours.

The core of the original cast is present – Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect, Susan Sheridan as Trillian, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod and Phil Pope as “several random characters”. Stephen Moore is, I believe, touring with Oliver! so he has recorded all of Marvin’s dialogue which is used for the show.

The important thing is – is it any good? There have been stage version of the Guide before and they’ve, generally, failed dismally. This one is different for having so many of the original cast there. It’s not just an adaptation, it’s a bringing-together of so much of the creative talent who have been involved since the very beginning.

As a result… yes. Yes, it’s good. In fact, it’s very good.

I confess that some things jarred as I was expecting a straight stage performance of the scripts. However, once I’d got my head around the fact that this was a version in its own right I began to enjoy the new material and the changes that had been made to create more of an actual stage show.

There was a smidgen of audience participation, but not enough to make it silly. The cast were superb, even with the occasional slip which was taken in good spirit by their colleagues and the audience alike. The weak link in the chain, in my view, was Billy Boyd. He’s a wonderful guy, but his voice just didn’t carry enough gravitas to be The Book in my opinion. However, he made up for this in spades with his performance as the Dish of the Day later in the show. Along with Marvin, I think his lines raised the largest laughs of the night. I suppose now that his brief stint is over (a variety of actors will play this role in other venues), I can reveal that he played the part with a strong Glaswegian accent that went down very well with the crowd!

Incidentally, a full list of actors playing this part can be found on the official web site. Missing, sadly, are the non-main players. A shame as I would like to give credit to the chap who plays Slartibartfast magnificently well, and the young lady playing Random Dent. Maybe I should have forked out a fiver for the programmer after all.

After a rousing applause and a tribute to Douglas himself, the cast were kind enough to sign anything and everything thrust at them outside the stage door, pausing for photos and – in Billy’s case – hugging one girl who squealed with delight! These are people who really believe in what they’re doing (two of them are producers).

This was a great show. Not only did I enjoy it, I would consider forking out for a second visit. The way the show ends (again, trying to be pretty much spoiler-free), I wouldn’t be surprised if the script has major changes the next time it comes around. Certainly Dirk has built in a great excuse to get away with it if this is the case.

As ever, the biggest shame is that Douglas isn’t here to see how much everyone still enjoys his work – both watching and performing it. Here’s to the show’s continued success.

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Avenue Q

Avenue Q program- Front
Avenue Q program- Front (Photo credit: yumiang)

Just for something a little different, we decided on a trip to see the highly-recommended Avenue Q show at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. I’d originally seen posters up for it in London some years ago and happened to catch an advert recently detailing the performances up here.

For those who’s not heard of it, Avenue Q is an adult version of Sesame Street. It comes complete with fuzzy characters, monsters and songs. Thing is, Sesame Street didn’t have songs about homosexuality, porn and one night stands. Or if it did, I missed them.

Subject matter aside, this is a great production. The cast are, simply, fantastic. Not a missed line of dialogue or bum note the entire performance, and all this while operating the puppets.

It is an unusual sight to see the puppeteers on-stage alongside their furry acting pals. Rather than hiding behind walls, the cast run around in dark grey jeans and shirts moving and voicing the puppets. Clever positioning often allows one cast member to play two on-stage characters at once – one they’re controlling and one that another cast member is manipulating.

I did notice that the puppeteers also acted out their puppets’ parts – that is, as well as the voices they made facial expressions and so forth that matched the character’s mood. I don’t know if this is something they’re “supposed” to do, or if it just makes it easier to control the puppet realistically but it’s something to watch!

There are some very humorous moments, and the sound in the King’s was spot on. Often at theatres the sound just doesn’t work for less traditional musicals and the words in songs can be lost. Not so here, which is ideal as I’d say 75%+ of the story and jokes are in the songs.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t think it was as good as I’d been led to believe. The humour certainly kept me amused for the 2 1/4-ish hours running time, but I’d not say my ribs were aching by the time I left. Maybe on another night. On the other hand, I certainly wasn’t disappointed and time didn’t drag.

I reckon there will still be a few tickets left for this week’s performances in Glasgow and if you have the time and cash (and a gutter-level sense of humour) then there are worse ways to spend an evening!

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Batman – LIVE!

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15:  The new Batmobile ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I almost didn’t see this. The wonderful Gillian was going to get me tickets as a surprise after telling me it looked rubbish based on the posters. And then discovered that it was on a week earlier than she expected and had one of my facebook friends not mentioned it, would have been trying to book tickets a week after it had finished!

So, anyway…

Batman Live

I’m not sure what I was expecting as I’d deliberately kept myself in the dark. However, with one exception, all the feedback I’d had was positive. As it turns out, it was deserved.

The show runs for two 50-minute halves and includes acrobatics, tumbling, jokes, a good story, magic and incredible effects. Whoever designed the set deserves a stack of awards, as that (other than the drool-some woman who plays Poison Ivy) is the real star of the show. The stage projects out into the audience and the cast make full use of it. There are plenty of cool props, such as miniature buildings and so forth, but the most impressive permanent item is the huge digital screen.

This is used as a backdrop for every scene and the images thereon merge cleverly with the physical aspects. Doorways in the image are actual doorways for the cast (and other props) to move in and out of. The screen is also used to indicate transitions in sets with beautifully animated page-turning effects. It really is something special.

There is something in the show for everyone. Most of the well-known villains are present, fronted of course by The Joker, and our tale takes us from Batman’s beginnings to Robin‘s teaming up with him. Quite a lot to cram into a little under two hours, but it manages it without feeling rushed.

The cast are excellent, playing their parts with the right attitude dependent on their character. Many of the villains really play to the crowd in a panto-esque fashion. Feel free to boo, and to cheer Batman and Robin. The crowd watching my performance certainly did! It’s certainly more Batman & Robin than The Dark Knight as Tiff quite correctly put it. However, it manages the campness in a way that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. The stage can get away with this portrayal far better than the cinema screen could.

I found the fight scenes a little slow, showing the choreography a little too much but – hey – I’m nitpicking. There’s certainly enough going on, particularly in the larger ones with multiple combatants, to make it worthwhile seeing the show more than once so you can focus on another character. The same can be said of the circus scenes which are wonderfully busy.

Visually, though, it’s staggering. The sheer scale of the operation blew my mind. I was impressed by the end of the first half, but the best was definitely left until after the interval when things just got bigger and more impressive.

As a new way of enjoying one of the best (if not the actual best) superheroes out there, this is a top notch effort. Definitely worth the entry price and I’m very much hoping they do a sequel.

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Amateur Transplants and Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guid...
I think he would have approved

A rather unusual pairing and an unusual week for me in that I didn’t go to the cinema. Instead, I caught two live performances – both part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival.

Amateur Transplants

“Someone’s trying to sing harmony. Don’t.”

The simple way to find out if anyone knows this pair of disgusting, tasteless, swearing southerners is to point them to the YouTube video for “London Underground”. As well as that minor online hit, the pair (Adam Kay and Suman Biswas) have done a handful of albums and a live DVD, the proceeds from all of which go towards the Macmillan Cancer Nurses charity.

They’re excellent to see live, but only if your sense of humour finds the gutter to be familiar territory. Fortunately, Gill and I both still think farts are amusing so it made for a good evening. I had seen them at the Edinburgh Fringe a few months ago, and the set wasn’t hugely different. However, the two guys perform so well and the material is so damn funny I just didn’t care.

Half the fun was watching my other half convulse in laughter to songs she’d send her kids to bed early with no dinner for if they came home singing them. It’s great to see an audience genuinely enjoy a live performance so much and I don’t think anyone leaving felt they’d not had their money’s worth.

The Hitch-Hikers’s Guide to the Galaxy – live on stage

“Life? Don’t talk to me about life.”

There have been a handful of stage adaptations of Douglas Adams‘ most famous work, and they’ve met with varying degrees of success. I was informed of this one by ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha’s Dave Haddock, and we caught up for a beer with a fellow ZZ9-er before walking to the Kingshorn Theatre (a converted church) for a bum-numbing 2 1/2 hour performance.

The show is only for the comedy festival and put on by the Strathclyde University drama and radio societies. In the interests of reducing stress in those reading this review who may have a connection with the performance, I will first of all state that I really enjoyed it. Any and all faults I pick up in the following paragraphs are minor! It’s very rare that I get to see something on stage where I’m so familiar with the source material.

While there are several versions of the Guide, the radio one has been used for this show and it’s a very close adaptation with only some brief editing of content to shorten the running time slightly. Indeed, the show is split into 6 parts (with an interval between 3 and 4) with the “can our heroes escape?” and “last week, we left our heroes…” speeches intact.

The cast numbers around 15 people, including those doing live special effects. Almost everyone has at least two parts, including the narrator who also voices a tannoy system at one point. I’m afraid I didn’t get any names, but I think the Guide/narrator is unusual in that the part is played by a woman. In the original radio series, LPs, TV series and movie the part has always been played by a man.

Our narrator, I discovered in the bar afterwards when  met her, is a real fan of the series and was actually very nervous as she’d spotted our little crew in the audience. Obviously, we’d know if she cocked up. So she freaked a bit and was berating herself over a drink for stumbling over a few lines. She really didn’t need to as she did incredibly well. For the majority of the show, if I’m correct, she wasn’t even referring to her script (which all of the actors carry with them). Impressive given the volume of dialogue.

The show is unusual in its presentation. It’s partly like watching a radio show being edited in that everyone has that script in their hand, and plays multiple parts. It’s like a traditional play in that they do wear costumes (basic ones) and perform physically. There are also very few props (a stick, some chairs and the scripts themselves). It also works very well and is hugely enjoyable to watch, although on occasion the background sound did make it a little hard to heard the actors.

It did seem that the later acts (“fits”) weren’t as well rehearsed as earlier ones, and there were a couple of lines fluffed. In fairness, it’s nigh on three hours of work and the scenes where things weren’t completely perfect were generally full of complex dialogue or involved a fair bit of action as well.

If I had to pick out individual performances, I’d have to focus on those who played Ford (absolutely superb), Arthur (never once looked at his script), Marvin (amongst other parts, but he was brilliant as the paranoid android), Slartibartfast (probably the most consistently good actor of the group over all his parts from Slarti to the captain of the B Ark by way of Milliways’ waiter and ending as a caveman), and the Guide herself. This isn’t to belittle the others at all. A superb cast and all deserve full credit.

They were all a joy to talk to in the bar afterwards, as well. I wish them all the best of luck with the rest of the performances and highly recommend anyone with an interest in HHG to grab a ticket if they can make it. You can pick them up from TicketSoup. It’s a bugger to find them on there so here’s a direct link.

 

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