Writer: Ben Norris
Director: Polly Tisdall
Reviewer: Paul Couch
“Who is this man?; How can he be my father?” It’s a question most of us have asked at some point in our lives, some for longer periods than others. Sometimes, the distance grows during the fraught battlefields of puberty and then closes. For the rest, it’s sporadic or perpetual – a generational chasm that can never be reconciled until it’s too late. It’s a question Ben Norris is only too familiar with.
For actor and spoken word artist Norris, his father Ray is in the latter category – not a bad parent, just emotionally disconnected from his son. Ray comes from a generation that didn’t relate easily to their progeny; to do so would be considered weak or even effeminate. However, rather than sit back and allow what relationship they do have to wither, Norris Jr. embarks on an odyssey to find out what has made his father the remote yet dutiful figure he is.
The secret, Norris decides, lies in Ray’s life journey from Wembley to Nottingham – roughly parallel to the M1 – via Welwyn Garden City, Breachwood Green, and Langford. And so that’s what Norris’ one-man show The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Family is about – his discoveries about his father and experiences of distant family members on the 120-plus miles thumbing it down the M1.
It’s a fascinating tale of self-discovery too, performed as a monologue-cum-free verse poem, which is so cleverly cast that much of it only registers on the subconscious. Norris is charming in a mischievous way and, while his story is primarily played for laughs, there’s plenty of shade to tug at the heartstrings of those in a similar situation.
Simple staging of a few props and a white backdrop on to which moving and still images are projected allow Norris the full run of the performance space and he uses it constantly. His delivery doesn’t miss a beat and he’s even comfortable enough to break the fourth wall for some audience interaction.
Polly Tisdall’s crisp direction of this multimedia performance is pitched perfectly and has Norris showing an exemplary amount of confidence coupled with both humour and pathos.
The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Family has been picking up awards at Fringe festivals and little wonder – it’s an engaging and touching showcase for Norris’ prodigious talent.
Tours until 27 November 2016 | Image: Contributed