As the audience gathers for this return visit to the Edinburgh Playhouse on the evening of Friday 27th September, the stage is comfortably familiar, comfortable chair with a standard lamp and radio, a framed photo of Douglas Adams, as a series of recordings of the late author plays, the snippets covering the conception of the show, through radio and television and the efforts to move it to Hollywood, while on the other side of the stage illuminated aluminium represents the future as imagined in the late 1970s.
With so much material to cover, as the lights sweep the auditorium accompanied by prog rock basslines and driven synths the action moves directly into the destruction of the Earth by a Vogon Contructor Fleet before seguing into the legendary Journey of the Sorcerer opening theme.
As Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern have now been playing Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect for thirty five years, it would be shocking for them to put a foot wrong, and it is obvious both enjoy the night as much as the audience, and Mitch Benn is similarly effortless as Zaphod, a part he quite rightly feels he was born to play.
The show is participatory, with the audience being encouraged to supply panic and screams during the destruction of Earth and applause and cheers during the surprisingly early revelations of Deep Thought before moving back to Arthur and Ford’s encounter with Vogon poetry.
This deviation from the normal pattern of the narrative which facilitates faster telling of the story, one of the many adaptations which allows the show to cover a multitude of plot points in the most efficient manner, though favourite lines are picked up, deftly relocated to new scenes. As is the flexible nature of cause and effect with time travellers, the effect wraps forward as well as back, with Ford observing that the mattresses on the Vogon ship were freshly caught from Sqornshellous, a planet which did not feature until the third novel, Life, The Universe and Everything, and the attention to detail is exemplary, for example Magrathea correctly located within the Horsehead Nebula.
Although the projection screen which embraces the stage is used effectively to create the different settings, from the hold of a Vogon ship to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe to another hold on the Golgafrincham B-ark, the visual representation of the Guide itself is basic, and while it may not have been possible to compete with the award winning television version, it is disappointing.
Fortunately, the guest Voice of the Book, Miriam Margolyes, is comfortable in her gold patterned pyjamas, speaking with great authority underlined by her perfect enunciation, and occasionally adding more character to the guide than is traditional, but to great effect.
Stephen Moore, present in voice only as Marvin the Paranoid Android, is assisted by “little helper” Tom Alexander, giving life to the full size puppet, and along with Toby Longworth and Andy Secombe they are vital parts of the show, while despite having an expanded role in the later radio series, in this production Susan Sheridan’s Trillian sadly remains very much in the shadow of her colleagues in the first half and her daughter, Samantha Béart’s Random Frequent Flyer Dent in the second.
While the first act is largely the same as the 2012 tour, the second act is different, Zaphod’s encounter with the Total Perspective Vortex replacing Arthur’s kidnapping by Agrajag, affording Benn not only the chance to be more involved but also to eat cake.
While the production certainly offers a hugely entertaining night of adventure, excitement and really wild things, the sprawling source material offers such a wealth of narratives which could be told from the further travels of Arthur and his cohort that should a third tour be announced it is hoped that it might be a radical expansion rather than a revision of the current.
The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live is on tour until Saturday 30th November
Geek Chocolate have already interviewed Simon Jones and Mitch Benn, and our conversation with writer/director Dirk Maggs will be online soon