Monday, 16 September 2013

Don't Panic (Keep your Towel with you)

When I heard that the always-wonderful Mitch Benn was going to be playing Zaphod Beeblebrox in the new touring production of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy Live Radio show I naturally wanted to go, and started trying to work out which performance would be best for me to get to, as none of them was very convenient.

Then, while I was still being indecisive about where to go, I heard that Neil Gaiman would be appearing as the Voice of the Book, for one night only (the first night of the tour, in fact) at the Hackney Empire. And it was on a Saturday night. 

The thought of seeing both Neil AND Mitch was irresistible, so of course I booked a ticket.

On Saturday, therefore, I got a train up to Waterloo, checked into the pub-with-rooms just down from the theatre (remember the pub-with-rooms, oh Best Beloveds. It will feature later on) and, a little later on, was sitting at the back of the Dress Circle waiting to renew my acquaintance with the Guide.

I've never been to the Hackney Empire before. It's rather nice. It was built as a Music Hall in 1901. On appearances, the designer  was unfamiliar with the concept of 'restraint', and had shares in a gilding business.

The HHGTTG, on the other hand, is something I am familiar with, having read the books, listened to the (repeats of) the radio show, and seen the film and TV series. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the 'live radio show' 

It turns out that you get the Book, sitting in a wing back chair sipping tea, the Band, and a chap with a table of props to do all the sound effects. Oh, and a bunch of stonking actors to do all the voices. 

A lot of them are the original cast members - Simon Jones (Arthur Dent) - still wearing the original dressing gown (although I suspect he's taken it off, in the mean time) Geoff McGivern (Ford Prefect) Susan Sheridan (Trillian) Stephen Moore (Marvin the Paranoid Android) - then there are some newer members -  Mitch Benn, (chosen because the Original Zaphod, Mark Wing-Davey, currently has a job as an Arts Professor in New York, and isn't allowed time off to do funny voices on old radio shows), and Polly J R Adams as the Dish of the Day. There was, of course, also one N. Gaiman as The Voice of the Book.

The show has  it's own band, and also a man at a table in the front left hand corner of the stage to do all the sound effects, so you can watch him banging things together to make the sound of Vogon steel-capped boots, pouring water into a bucket to make the sound of mixing drinks, and fighting an Angolian Suntiger to make the noise of someone fighting and Angolian Suntiger in order to serve a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster.

It also has a bowl of petunias.

It's a stonkingly good and funny show. If you've listened to the radio show, or read the books, you'll like the show. If you haven't, what's been delaying you?
After the show finished, I pootled back to the pub-with-rooms, and as it wasn't massively late, decided to drop my programme and things in my room and pop back down for a nightcap.

When I got back down, the bar seemed to be a lot more crowded. Fair enough, I thought, it's one of the closest pubs to the theatre, and I guess lots of people fancied a drink. 

Then I thought "Hmm, that hair looks familiar. *shrug* I must just have Mr Gaiman on my mind having seen him in the show"

Then I thought "that guy next to the hair looks just like Mitch Benn"

At which point my working through the crowd to get to the bar brought me close the The Hair, and realised that the chap under it was in fact Mr Gaiman, and that the Mitch Benn lookalike was in fact Mitch Benn, and that many of the others filling the bar were the rest of the cast. . . Which was nice, if slightly surreal. 

I was able to tell Neil that he makes a very good Book, and congratulate the lovely Polly Adams on her appearance as the Dish of the Day, and Mitcch on making Zaphod his own. Which was nice. And did make for a lovely end to the evening. 

There is a clip of Simon Jones, and Neil, on the ITN News, talking about the show. And although Neil's appearance as the Book was one night only, there are lots of other interesting people taking on the role over the course of the tour - if it's near you, go see it! 

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