Hitchhikers Guide Live: Dirk Maggs interview
Share and enjoy! The original radio cast are taking the Douglas Adams classic on tour
It’s true: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is going on tour, with live recordings taking place in theatres around Britain this summer. In the latest issue of SFX, on sale from Wednesday 2 May, we interview top producer Dirk Maggs about bringing Douglas Adams’s work to life on stage with the original radio cast. You can read all about that in the news section of the print edition, but our conversation took in loads of subjects we didn’t have room for in the magazine, so here are some more excerpts:
SFX: Do you think you’ll be reaching new audiences with Hitchhikers Live?
Dirk Maggs: Oh I hope so. Adams fans are wonderful and there is nothing wrong with them but I think it’s vital to bring in new people. There is just so much jostling for attention now. Class stuff can get forgotten. It’s wonderful that Edgar Rice Burroughs gets revived after 100 years and god bless him! But I think to lose Douglas for that long would be a crime against humanity so we are working for the common good!
This isn’t some exploitation exercise as far as I’m concerned – Hitchhikers is insanely great stuff and we mustn’t lose it. BBC radio has somehow forgotten that the way to preserve anything is to keep attracting the next generation to it. I’m talking particularly about the spoken word; the BBC seem to have forgotten that they have an audience under 50. We need to educate people about Hitchhikers, which is the magnum opus from Douglas’s point of view. It is vital that we bring in new listeners. It wasn’t done entirely for this purpose, but maybe it’s good that we have a couple of silly robots in our show because it encourages parents to bring their children along!
SFX: Why do you think Hitchhikers is still important today?
Maggs: I keep being knocked out with how Douglas keeps hitting the nail on the head with Hitchhikers. There was something on the news the other day and I just thought, “That’s mad.” This morning on the Today programme they were talking about biogenetics in which graduates are going into laboratories to build stuff. Genetics is now software, they are going to build machines out of cells! And I’m thinking, “Well, here comes the dish of the day!”
Meanwhile, the whole point of the Vogons is it’s the government, it’s all box ticking and surveillance society. The bureaucrat is king. And we really are watched within an inch of our lives. Google tracks our every move on the net. The Vogons track your every move, it’s a bureaucracy and it’s lists and it’s information.
The really chilling one is this idea in Mostly Harmless, about machines that are more capable than us – they can see much wider visual spectrum and hear a much wider frequency range, can outthink us in milliseconds flat. That is all coming and he was predicting it – and he puts it all in a handy soft carrying case. It’s the wonder of it and the kind of dread of it, too, which is fascinating.
Mostly Harmless is such an underrated book by the way; it’s possibly my favourite Hitchhikers book because it kicks over everything else Douglas has done. He tears through ideas of such immensity, I think it pays repeated visits. People who say, “Oh, Hitchhikers dips off towards the end”… It totally does not! It’s amazing, groundbreaking stuff. It never occurred to me why it was tough for Douglas to sit in a room and write it; the amount of intellectual firepower on those pages is completely astounding, and it’s superb stuff.
SFX: Absolutely. And you want to get as much of that as possible into the live events?
Maggs: Yeah. With jokes [laughs]. The point is it does have to be funny as well. We could turn it into a great lecture, but the point is Douglas did this in a fun and exciting and silly way. This thing has got to live and breathe and these are the people who have created it. And that’s the thing about it. If Geoff McGivern wants to ad lib in character on stage, he can do that, as far as I’m concerned; I don’t have the seniority to stop him. Or Simon Jones. Or Mark. We tried this at the Royal Festival Hall show in 2009 and this thing killed me; Mark Wing-Davey walked out with a pair of mice and said we were to “fuck off” for laughing at him. Which was brilliant. Because that is exactly the right spirit.
I didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge like Douglas, but we all know what the end of term concert is like at a university or college. It goes on way too long and everybody gets far too drunk but there’s a Pythonesque silliness going on. The sketches and the laughter, that’s a part of Hitchhikers too.
I was reading his account of what the offices of the Hitchhiker’s Guide were like, where at lunchtime everybody disappears and never comes back and the afternoon is filled with researchers stealing into offices to type out their stuff. Which was BBC light entertainment. Everybody goes off at lunchtime and then the writers at the weekend would raid your office for the typewriter.
The live shows should feel like: we’ve just arrived to do the show that night and we haven’t seen the script before and occasionally… I’m not going to make free with Douglas’s genius, but there might be occasions where I throw the odd spanner in to see how they get out of it. And, of course, spanners will throw themselves in. Semi-artificially intelligent spanners with a will of their own! But there will be an element of danger which is the point of radio really.
SFX: How are tickets selling? Are you going to be playing to packed houses?
Maggs: I hope so. It’s going really good, we’re going very well. We haven’t really pushed at all but it’s going amazingly well given that brochures haven’t even gone out of the theatres yet.
SFX: Thanks Dirk!
Read more of this interview in issue 222 of SFX, on sale now. To find out more about Hitchhikers Live visit the official website. The tour begins in Glasgow on 8 June, with Billy Boyd confirmed as the first guest Voice Of The Book (Neil Gaiman is among those confirmed to provide the Voice in future performances). Dirk Maggs also has an official website here.