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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42 by Peter Gill

42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...
The Answer

I don’t normally do book reviews, but a) ZZ9  can pinch this for the next issue of MH and b) Mr Gill kindly messages me via Twitter and I kind of mentioned I’d write one.

42 Douglas Adams’ Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything by Peter Gill

This could easily just have been a book full of random news snippets and dodgy maths, but Gill manages to make it a little more than that. Chapters throughout attempt to group the 42’s together by theme and there’s a fair bit at the end filled with Adams’ own reasons for choosing the famous number.

Being the 42 geek I am I was impressed with the number of references I wasn’t previously aware of. What I wasn’t so keen on was that quite a few were rather tenuous. There are a couple of “just over 42″s and the like which break the rules! Gill also introduces a couple of sections based on pushing the number 42 into a given situation, the main example is his idea for an alternative decibel system based on units of 42.

The idea of 42-ana (I just made that up) is that you look for the presence of 42 in other things – not shoehorn it into places where it doesn’t already exist. That’s just an excuse to list something else which has nowt to do with the subject at hand.

Despite this complaint, I quite enjoyed the book. Even when this tactic is used the subject matter is usually interesting enough to be worth reading regardless, but I am a lover of all things trivial. It’s not a book for everyone, not even for every Douglas Adams fan, but it’s good bedside or bogside fodder.

I hope that doesn’t come across as an insult to the author!

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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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And Another Thing…

Cover of "And Another Thing... (Hitchhike...
And Another Thing...

I managed to finish a book. This is amazing these days. I used to plough through maybe 4-6 novels a week when I was at school. These days I’m nearer one a month, which is hugely disappointing to me.

Anyway, courtesy of the lovely people from ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha (the official Douglas Adams fan club), I won a copy of the sixth book in the trilogy. For those who don’t know, it’s actually written by Eoin Colfer, better known for his children’s books. This is predominantly to do with the fact that Adams died in 2001, making it even more difficult for his publishers to get a sequel out of him than was normally the case.

I would have bought a copy (I own a stupid number of copies of the original Hitchhiker books), but kept putting it off as I didn’t have the time. I started And Another Thing… just before the holidays on purpose – so that I’d stand a chance of finishing it.

And with four days to spare, I did. It took a lot of plodding, though it’s not a difficult read. It is very much a HHG novel. Credit to Colfer for that. He writes very well and has raised his level, for want of a better way of putting it, into the adult field perfectly.

I do have gripes, though. The story is good. In fact, I prefer it to Mostly Harmless, which I thought was actually a really poor novel. In fact, I think it’s the only Hitchhiker’s book I’ve never re-read. There’s a great use of language in AAT…, without (much) resorting to poor puns. This is a good thing.

My main issue is the number of times the novel sidetracks into Guide entries which simply aren’t up to the standards of Adams’. Where a simple metaphor would do, Colfer has – in almost every single case – used a fictional construct which then requires explanation. This removes so much from the pace of the story-telling that it becomes wearisome.

To me, good humour is quick humour. Jokes that have moved onto the next one before you realise that you’ve missed a chuckle and have to backtrack and enjoy the moment over again. This is why I love the likes of M*A*S*H, The West Wing, Jeeves & Wooster and so forth. Oh, and the original HHG books.

If Colfer had done this a little less (actually a lot less) then I’d have enjoyed the book a lot more. On the other hand, it would have been 30-40 pages shorter. This may not have pleased the Vogons in the publishing house.

There is some great writing in here and some paragraphs that really made me stifle a giggle. It’s good. Following on from such a respected author took a truckload of guts and a moment of idiocy. I’m glad Colfer took on the job as I doubt there are many other authors in this age who could have carried it off as well.

Still – could do better.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Daleks

I wasn’t going to post tonight as I’m too busy but this is simply too good not to publicise. Yes, the voiceover’s not great but the creator’s aware and is looking into re-recording it.

If you like HHGTTG and Dr Who you will utterly love this. It’s not just the style and the music, it’s the number of references to both sources that pop up throughout. An incredible piece of work.

As an aside, when I checked the video directly on YouTube, it had precisely 42 ratings 🙂


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