The clumsy title conceals a show of great warmth and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has become so much a part of modern culture that even non-fans unconsciously quote the script.
Yet its origins were modest. It started as a radio show and so benefited from a medium that secures the maximum use of audience imagination to visualise a bizarre universe of two headed men, pan dimensional mice and paranoid androids. The stage adaptation of Douglas Adams’s scripts, by director Dirk Maggs, attempts to return to this state of innocence and he has assembled the original radio cast to help ensure success.
Maggs doesn’t go all the way and recreate the radio studio atmosphere. Although the cast stand stage centre reading from scripts into microphones there are sufficient visual and other supplements to make this a theatrical experience rather than just an exercise in nostalgia.
A live band (with the director on drums) plays Pink Floyd tunes and the Doctor Who theme. A group of (almost) poker faced stage technicians in plain view use everyday objects to create sound effects ranging from footsteps to the destruction of planets. They also manipulate the show-stealing life size puppet - Marvin the Paranoid Android. Voiced by Stephen Moore and with a head shaped like an old-style radio and a trunk from a reel-to-reel tape recorder Marvin is a joy to watch.
Guest actors voice the Guide itself. John Challis is a warmer, less detached, interpretation than the late Peter Jones although he struggles with some of the tongue twisting names in the script. Simon Jones, Geoff McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey are clearly delighted to put the band back together and their enthusiasm is infectious. The result is a show that is celebratory but not smug – the objective is to entertain the audience not themselves.
Maggs takes chances with his adaptation. Opening with a plot development that was kept secret until late in the first series and skipping scenes from the first episode that fans might regard as essential. But it works – the show might be aimed at fans but newcomers can enjoy it.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live! could have been a disaster – a grubby attempt to make a fast buck by exploiting the zeal of fans. But the skill of the director, the enthusiasm of the cast and the blinding quality of the scripts remind us why we loved the show in the first place. Contrary to what Marvin might advise you will enjoy it.