This is not a review of the whole show itself, but a review of the audio download of the Hackney show where Neil Gaiman is the Book.
Background: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams started as a radio drama, then became a five-part book trilogy, TV show, Disney film, and various other illustrated books, comics, computer games, and audiobooks. Last year, the original radio cast took the show on a live tour of England. It was so successful, they are doing it again this year. Their shows are available to purchase in audio form from their website afterward.
This year, the original cast of Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan, and Stephen Moore are back. Mitch Benn has replaced Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod. Various actors play the Book, depending on which performance it is.
The show opens with a Hitchhikers-meets-Doctor-Who theme song, followed by the Deep Thought scene where we learn right up front that the Earth is a giant computer trying to figure out what the question of life, the universe, and everything is (to which the answer is 42). Even though the cast has clearly been instructed to move through the script at a break-neck speed, fans who know the story can enjoy it without getting lost, and eventually your mind catches up with the pace. All your favorite lines are there, though you may be surprised they appear in different places, as many of the scenes have been reordered. For example, both the discussion of the disused laboratory with a sign outside the door saying “beware of the leopard” and the Arthur-Ford pub chatter takes place on the Vogon ship after the Earth has been destroyed, and not before it. However, the explanation that time is out of joint allows them to jump from location to location without any reason, freeing the script writers to select the very best scenes from the series. It’s essentially a “best of” with a loose narrative running through.
It sounded excellent. Everyone’s voices still sound the same. The Foley was good. I really liked Random. And actually, although I love Mark Wing-Davey, I really liked Mitch Benn as well. (We are privileged to get the whole Total Perspective Vortex scene, too.) Neil Gaiman was Neil Gaiman, and the exact right person you want to be the book (except for maybe Stephen Fry, which is probably the only part of the Disney movie that got right). Although having heard Gaiman read so many of his own stories, it was hard to dislodge the idea that he was reading someone else’s.
The show has all your favorite Hitchhiker’s songs, including two by Marvin, one by Zaphod, the Share and Enjoy jingle, and a lengthened song of Krikkit. However, I was very surprised that Agrajag was completely cut from the script, save the bowl of petunias crashing to the ground. Agrajag is one of my favorite characters, and last year, Simon Jones told me that they were using the recording of Douglas Adams playing Agrajag in the radio show and had a stand-in umbrella to play the bat version of Agrajag on stage. This was for the first year tour, and done in tribute to Adams, so perhaps they felt it would be milking it a bit if they did it again.
When you have a 5-series radio show cut down into one evening, of course the instinct is to say “but they left out this bit and that bit and this bit.” So, yeah, we didn’t get the planet made of shoes with the bird people and the statue of Arthur throwing a cup, but we did get the entire argument with the drinks dispenser (which is lacking from the TV series) that is a setup for that episode. We get a glimmer of Krikkit, which is enough for me, to be honest. The Krikkit thing with the bistro spaceship is probably my least favorite bit anyway. We do get Random Frequent-Flyer Dent, but we don’t get Fenchurch, or Zarniwoop, or the Ruler of the Universe, or the sandwich making. We, sadly, don’t get Colin the adorable robot who falls out a window with Ford. We don’t get the mattress planet, or God’s message to his creation, or very much of the dolphins. We get the B-Arc, but not the cavemen or the Chesterfield sofa. We get the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, complete with Hot Black and the Dish of the Day, but not the stolen black spaceship. We get quite a bit of Slartibartfast, which is nice. We get something that is almost Vogon poetry but isn’t, but we don’t get the argument with the young Vogan guard. We get plenty of Bablefish and towels. I was happy that we got a lot of the time jump stuff and how all the characters are now living their lives out of order compared to those around them. Except for Marvin, who’s living his life in order, parking cars on Magrathea for all time until he phones up Zaphod to wash his head at him. It does end abruptly, neither a huge cliff hanger nor a round ending. It feels like it just stops. I would have liked to maybe shorten some of the other stuff in order to actually spin through the whole plot so that at least there was a proper ending. But I guess you’ll just have to pick up the books or original radio show, as Neil Gaiman suggests in the end.
The scary thing about listening to this story again is that as the years go by, you realize that Douglas Adams wasn’t just right about a few things: He very well may have been right about absolutely everything in terms of where our world is headed. Yes, I know everyone’s always so impressed that Douglas Adams essentially came up with something internet-Wikipedia-like before it existed, something handheld and portable that tells you everything you want to know and yet is highly inaccurate. But it’s so much more than that. There’s a scene in this particular show, as in the original, with the Guide Mark II. This is the next generation of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and it’s not just a little palm computer that gives you facts. No. When you turn it on, it asks you questions to get a sense of your understanding of the world and then adapts itself so that you have the best user experience. “Ah, so you think time flows in that direction,” it says in response to one of Random’s answers. Its software is almost organic the way that it can adjust to its user. Whether you know it or not, these kinds of things already exist. There are websites that find out information about the way you learn best and the way you want to interact with content by studying your behavior and asking you “questions” that you might not even realize are questions. The sites then adjust to fit your needs. Your experience on their site is going to be completely different than your friend’s, but you’re both going to have experiences that are perfect to who you each are. Douglas Adams was writing fiction about this kind of thing ages ago. (To be fair, maybe other sci-fi writers were too, I don’t know.)
Okay, now I have the Krikkit song stuck in my head.