Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, July 14)

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live.

For aficionados, who have managed to survive the five-book ‘trilogy’ and just about all the other phases and incarnations of the classic Douglas Adams radio series, it’s an opportunity too good to miss: several of the key original cast from 1978 reuniting for an adaptation drawn from the books and radio series combined.

It’s unfortunate that the souvenir brochure features several photos of the stage version of Marvin the paranoid android (a rather wonderful and lovable design) making such comments as, “You won’t enjoy it,” “I’ve seen it - it’s rubbish,” and “It’s even worse than I thought it would be” as there is a real danger that he’s being prophetic.

Director and adapter Dirk Maggs, an audio visionary genius who has done so much to keep the spirit of Adams’ work alive, has created a bit of a theatrical mess with this offering which, even for a big fan of the Hitchhiker universe such as myself, was all geek to me.

Using material from some of the later novels might add a few surprises for those unfamiliar with the whole story but squeezing so much in makes for confusion, a lack of direction, and an inconclusive ending, which is sad given that Deep Thought’s answer to life, the universe, and everything is shunted to the beginning - and the ultimate question never comes.

It is hard to see what the show is trying to do: a recreation of a radio recording (like Round the Horne did so well) would be fun, but there are a few visuals and costumes (the graphics for the guide could be a lot more

inventive) as well as some rather silly panto-style attempts at audience participation that make it all feel awkward and the audience appears to tire of these quickly.

Don’t panic - it’s not a total disaster area! It is the fulfilment of any fan’s dream to see Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Geoff McGivern as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod, Susan Sheridan as Trillian, and to hear Stephen Moore’s definitive vocal talent as Marvin and to realise that they are having enormous fun in revisiting the roles they created. There are also some excellent multi-performances from Philip Pope, Toby Longworth and Andrew Secombe.

The live band is a treat - the extended version of the familiar theme at the start sets the scene perfectly - but the added songs come alarmingly close to grating. Still, it’s nice to hear Marvin performing a version of his 1981 minor hit and the lullaby from the third Hitchhiker’s novel.

For two of the three Brighton shows, Roger McGough guests as the Voice of the Book (there are a number of performers appearing in the role during the tour - Hugh Dennis takes the reins on Saturday) and Dish of the Day.

Normally witty and hilarious, he seems to be reading the script as if for the first time -though he has done it several times before - and huge chunks of the humour (originally easily evident in the dry delivery of the late Peter Jones) vanish as if consumed at birth by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

Sterner critics may be tempted to say of this production, “Loathe it or ignore it. You can’t like it.” But it will probably appeal to fans who fancy another take on this comedy classic - and you can always dash home and listen to the first and second phases of the radio series to remind yourself that all is just about right with the world.

David Guest