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Live Hitchhikers

The original cast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide Top The Galaxy (with Andrew Sachs replacing the sadly-departed Peter Jones as the voice of the Book) is reuniting for a special one-off performance at Hitchcon ’09 at London’s South Bank this coming Sunday. The adaptation is being directed by Dirk Maggs, who Hitchhiker’s fans will know as the man who adapted Douglas Adams last few Hitchhiker’s books and Dirk Gently for Radio 4, and is just part of the day of fun. For more information about the con click . Meanwhile, Dirk Maggs himself gave SFX some insight into what attendees can expect from a live Hitchhiker’s radio show…

Can you tell us what we can expect from the live Hitchhiker’s?
“In amongst all the excitement about the new novel this will be the part of the day where all of us - actors, writers and friends of Hitchhikers over the past 30 years - get together to celebrate the genius of Douglas Adams by going back to where it all began and performing a live radio show of some of the best bits of the saga. It is by no means comprehensive but it will be a lot of fun.”

Why were you the perfect choice to direct this live version?
“I'm far from perfect but in the early ’90s Douglas heard some of my audio productions on BBC Radio and asked if I would be able to finish the Hitchhiker's saga on radio, where it all began - the story having by then developed into three novels. Well we finally completed the saga as the Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Phases on BBC Radio between 2003-5, but sadly without Douglas, who died much too young in 2001.”

Will there be any surprises?
“As it is a live radio show with technical demands the best surprise will be that everything runs flawlessly! But there may be an old friend or two popping in. And Douglas will be taking part. And the cock ups will get laughs if nothing else.”

Will any of the cast be in costume?
“It's a bit cleverer than that, though I rather expect Simon Jones to be wearing a certain dressing gown. Most of the cast will likely be disguised in early 21st century attire. I expect Stephen Moore will be wearing comfortable clothes and shoes for example. That is because he will look like Stephen but if you close your eyes he will be Marvin The Paranoid Android, that's the fun of it. A radio performance is a unique combination of what you hear and what you see, and this is a Hitchhiker's Workshop where you are taking an active part and also witnessing the original cast becoming the characters they created. It still sends shivers up my spine after all these years. The magic stems from such a simple source, and in how physical the process is, particularly the sound effects that are performed live on stage. And on top of that if you want to lose yourself in the pictures it creates, all you have to do is close your eyes for a moment.”

How long has it taken for this project to come together?
“I can only speak for my ‘part’ of the day, the live radio performance by the original cast, which I was approached about back in May this year. We (the cast and I) did a limited version of Hitchhikers Live last year at The Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture at The Royal Geographical Society, which was Episode two of the original BBC Radio series. This however is a new script, adapted from sources Douglas created later, including the vinyl albums and the novels.”

What special challenges are there in doing Hitchhiker’s live?
"Finding a way to perform live something that started life as a very disjointed recording and post-production process means going back to the audience shows we all used to do like The Burkiss Way, Radio Active and Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel. So ironically, for Hitchhiker's, which has such technically advanced origins, we arrive at a sort of reverse-engineered result. Rather than actors working alone at microphones just performing their ‘bits’ with other roles, sound effects and backgrounds added later by Radiophonics Workshop, we are going to do as much live on stage as possible, including hyperspace engines, krikkit robots marching and so on. As part of that process the audience will become a sound effects resource too, and also be part of the cast - playing the entire range of occupants of the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, for example.”

What is your favourite line in Hitchhiker’s?
“There are so many, but Arthur, his planet having been utterly destroyed, saying ‘It must be Thursday, I could never get the hang of Thursdays,’ is a particular joy.”

Has there been any talk of adapting Eoin Colfer’s book for radio?
“It's being read out as the Book At Bedtime on Radio 4 the week after publication so I don't expect a BBC Radio dramatisation will happen any time soon.”

How long will your association with Hitchhiker’s continue?
“I thought it was all over a while ago. But with the cast we have got and a chance to re-enter Douglas Adams's wonderful universe, I could hardly say no to a reunion.”