Holden Street Theatres
Until 18 Mar 2018

Review by Thomas Filsell

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family” is certainly one of the better produced, written, and professionally realised shows on offer at this year’s Adelaide Fringe. It is a very British, very sentimental, sometimes humorous, sometimes depressing, recount of Ben Norris’s physical and emotional journey southward from his home in Nottingham to his Father’s birthplace in Wembley. It tells the tale of a young man who grew up with a dad whom he loved but never really knew, a serious, taciturn man who had little time for Ben outside of the pub or in shared attendance at football matches, and less time for expressing his thoughts or showing (dreaded) emotions.

Norris’s is a very personal journey, and one perhaps more difficult for an international audience to fully appreciate, much of the humour and references in the show being informed by an assumed knowledge of British geography, iconography, and ethnography, but it is, nonetheless, one which all audience members can relate to in some way. The timbre of the show is sincere and melodramatic, most of the time we feel sorry for this earnest young man trying so desperately to find something that connects him with his father beyond their shared passion for football, but, thankfully, there are also many peaks among the troughs, many moments of triumph and comedy to break up the flats along what would otherwise be a long, depressing journey.

Ben Norris is clearly a gifted writer. His script is poetical, pacey, passionate, filled with metaphor and allusions to other literary figures like Kerouac and Douglas Adams, and suitably contemporary and unpretentious. It would have been nice to hear Norris talk off-script about his true thoughts and feelings at various times throughout the show, and if there was more room for improvisation. The script was well written, but it’s not Shakespeare, such a personal story is told better from the heart than through the pen.

The work is also performed at an interstellar pace, due in part to deft and efficient directing decisions, and in part to Norris’s particular vigorousness. This was a positive aspect of the show, especially given the fact that we were kept waiting for thirty minutes beyond the scheduled start-time due to technical difficulties in the beginning, and it kept the audience from wallowing in an established mood before the next event came along and changed the direction of the show’s emotional compass, but it did mean that occasionally some thoughts were lost in the rush.

Again, the show was tightly, even tautly directed, but some flexibility and more opportunity for Ben to be himself and not worry about the next line or action would have helped him and us feel at our ease and the show feel like a journey and not a sprint. The heavy reliance on multimedia meant that Norris could not perform the show on his own, which felt strange given its premise is a personal story of discovery involving himself and his father. I would like to see a shorter, less script-bound version of Norris’s story, which eschewed the photos of relatively unremarkable English roads, pubs and commonplace places.

Norris was a charming man; it would have been better to get to know more about him than about his authorial, literary talents. Also, a conclusion was lacking, we were not satisfied with a reconciliation or a moment of understanding and catharsis between Norris and his father; rather, Norris concluded his trip would have been better directed toward his father as opposed to away from him and into his past.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family” was well written, directed, performed and produced, and deserves to be recognised among those Fringe shows appreciated for the amount of thought and effort that has been put into them. It is not a show for everyone; if you do not have artistic sensibilities or a willingness to connect emotionally with another person’s story it will not much appeal to you. It is a quick-paced seventy minutes of pictures, props, poetry, physicality, personality and pathos. If you go into it with an open mind and an open heart you will be affected, you will have an emotional and engaged experience – but you may, however, leave the theatre ultimately unsatisfied.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)