Ipswich: Don’t panic says Simon Jones as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes to the Regent
- Credit: Archant
“One man said ‘I’ve been on five continents doing difficult work’. He looked a bit rough and ready and said ‘I’ve taken that (the radio show) with me; to me you are the voice of England’. I thought ‘really, gosh, that’s a bit much’,” laughs Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Arthur Dent, aka Simon Jones. “Whenever he felt particularly beleaguered by foreign customs he’d listen to me complaining about the lack of a decent cup of tea and feel better.”
Following a smash hit UK tour last year, Dent’s quest for a decent cup of tea after intergalactic planners demolish Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass - the source of a radio comedy, prime-time TV series, several much-loved books and even a Hollywood blockbuster - is back as a radio show like no other, packed with laughter, wild sound effects, a live band, HD projections and drinks with extremely silly names.
Coming to Ipswich’s Regent Theatre this Sunday, he will be joined by the voice of Stephen Moore as Marvin the Paranoid Android, Mitch Benn as Zaphod Beeblebrox plus Susan Sheridan with Miriam Margolyes as The Voice of The Book.
“It’s as though we never stopped,” says Simon, 36 years on from when they did the first pilot. “I think it’s very important the audience see the originals because they really like to finally put a face to those voices. The great relief is that despite the fact we’re now getting on in years and so far, I mean 60 is the new 40, they don’t seem to be shocked by our appearance. We apparently look much as they imagined us... even though I have very little hair.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live came out of the launch of Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing.
“Penguin decided to have a three-day extravaganza at the Royal Festival Hall... they had an exhibition of Douglas’ (Adams) effects including his extremely long bath which had just been taken out of his house by his widow who is redoing the bathroom. I hope it went to a museum, it b****y should have done; most of his thoughts after all were cooked up in the bath.
“As well as a permanent exhibition there were book signings, lectures and concluded with the reassembling of the original cast to do a sort of concert of your favourite hits of the Hitchhiker’s first two series,” says Simon, whose grandfather was the clerk of works at the Royal Imperial College, Holbrook.
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Having never performed it in front of a live audience before, they were greeted like rock stars.
“We were cheered from floor to ceiling, they stomped, laughed and clapped at their favourite lines - they finished them before we’d said them. People were all wearing dressing gowns or some other do and some had come from Europe and the length and breadth of the country. Dirk Maggs (the director) and I said to each other ‘there’s something more in this’.
“It gave us a buzz I hadn’t experienced since, I don’t know, when I first started acting; so plans began to be cooked to do a tour. Last year we did June and July and we were tearing round the country doing one night stands here and there. To our astonishment the response was enormous... so we thought ‘well, we need to do part two; we haven’t paid back our investors’ because we had to put out so much to get the show on the road so now we’ll do it again and go to the places we haven’t been.
“I had rather hoped we’d sit somewhere, England not being that very large a country, and people would come to us but our production company had other ideas so we’re doing 50 different venues in 12 weeks. The most strenuous is going from Scarborough to Dorking in one day I’m not quite sure how we’re going to do that. We are literally hitchhiking round the country. We will be in a bus, a heart of gold bus.”
Armed with a row of microphones, their scripts, bizarre props, a live sound effects table, four-piece band led by Phil Pope and perhaps the most famous dressing gown ever; it’s a case of don’t panic.
“Oh Miriam is great fun,” says Simon, when talk turns to the guest voices of The Book. “She sits in a comfy chair with a standard lamp and reads the book entries. We do it as a radio show with plenty of ad-libbing of course, if somebody turns over two pages at once or drops their script, that’s always fun.
“It is a lot to do with the words, but we felt we had to give people more than that so there are back projections, lots of sound effects and we have a totally new design of Marvin the paranoid android which brings the house down whenever he steps on stage. It’s an evening of extravaganza... I have to say, coming out of a stage door is a wonderful experience because people are of three generations.
“I mean, it’s a little embarrassing... they say ‘my grandfather got me to listen to this’ and I think ‘how old am I, they must think we’re national treasures preserved in aspic’.”
Having been in every live incarnation of the series - Simon had a cameo in the recent movie, “only because I threatened the producer that I’d tell fans where he lived unless one of the original cast had some kind of role in it” - he says audiences should come with no preconceptions.
“What you’re going to see is going to be different... at the same time it’s totally reassuring, a bit like being told a bedtime story once again. It’s like sitting in a warm bath of familiarity (with) an immediacy you don’t obviously have from a recording. Anything can happen.”
For more information visit www.hitchhikerslive.com