The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family
York Theatre Royal
After a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2015, where he won the prestigious IdeasTap Underbelly Award, Ben Norris is now touring his critically acclaimed one-man show across the UK. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family is not, however, a tribute to Douglas Adams’s enduringly popular creation, but rather a funny and tender look at masculine identity and father-son relationships.
During his formative years, Norris always felt estranged from his reliable but emotionally distant father. The fact that he went on to become an award-winning performance poet—someone whose stock-in-trade depends on a love of language and the articulation of feelings—only underlines the chasm between the 20-something performer and his 60-something father.
In a bid to learn more about his father and get closer to him, Norris embarked on a six-day hitchhike to every place his father ever lived, starting in Nottingham (where he currently resides) and finishing in Wembley (his birthplace). This journey—completed in the summer of 2014—was filmed and photographed, and footage from it is used throughout the show.
Ultimately, Norris learns little about his father by travelling through his previous addresses and listening to contradictory accounts of him. Instead, he realises that the only way of making a genuine connection is by speaking to him directly.
Norris is a charismatic and dynamic performer who manages to build an easy rapport with the audience from the outset. Although the show focuses on his emotional journey, he also manages to give colour and definition to the people he meets on the way—from obliging motorists to his father’s friends and relatives.
One of the chief pleasures of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family is its playful use of language which combines amusing gags, incisive observations and delightfully poetic turns of phrase. In addition to making you laugh and cry (in some cases), Norris also poses important questions about how men are supposed to behave and the ways in which different generations express their emotions. I have no doubt that these themes will strike a chord with many audience members, both young and old.
Polly Tisdall’s assured direction ensures that the fizziness of Norris’s language is also reflected in his movement around the stage. The passing of time is economically conveyed through several changes of T-shirt, each one corresponding to the 2014 footage projected on the screen.
Paul McHale's impressive video designs enrich the overall experience without distracting from Norris's performance. Indeed, all the multimedia feels integral to the piece as a whole.
Norris’s pilgrimage may not have solved the mystery of his father, but it has resulted in an entertaining show that combines drama, poetry and improvisation in a lively and inventive fashion.