On Friday evening, I kicked off the weekend by heading down to Bromsgrove to catch Ben Norris’s show The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family on the last leg of its current tour. (It’s in London at the end of the month, but deservedly sold out.)
Funny, poignant, and deeply personal, Hitchhiker’s Guide celebrates the relationship between father and son. Simultaneously separated by generations, yet connected by shared experience. Actually, scratch that; it’s more like being separated by shared experience (but in a good way).
In preparation for the show, and in an attempt to understand (quite literally) where his dad is coming from, Ben hitchhiked down the M1 to visit the various places where his dad spent his early years. Accompanied by some nifty animation, the occasional film clip and photos of those he encountered, Ben charted his journey interspersed with reminiscences about growing up with a dad whose approach to life was a million miles away from his own.
Football was a common thread, as he made his way to Wembley (the old one) and revisited the home ground of Luton Town, the site of many a father-son bonding experience. It’s part of the universality of this show that different elements trigger individual memories on the part of the audience. For me, the home ground of Luton Town football club was the last football match I ever attended. When I moved to Birmingham in 2003, my brother (a life-long Brighton & Hove Albion fan now living in Coventry) invited me to join him for any Saturday afternoon away games that happened to be within a 2-hour radius of the West Midlands. It was a good chance to spend time with him, and it started off well enough (winning the League One play-offs in 2004 was a definite highlight), but after a few years of rainy visits to places like Grimsby (nice fish, shit town, went the terrace chant) the visits culminated in a very cold and wet defeat to Luton Town at Kenilworth Road. As Ben mentions in the show, you can only get to the ground over the rooftops of a line of terraced houses, like a cut-price Mary Poppins. To my eternal shame, I think I even might have told my brother to fuck off when he brought me a cup of bovril. He’s still speaking to me, though the football is no longer a shared passion.
Digressions aside, Ben’s journey was ultimately about connection, and nowhere was that felt more keenly than between Ben and the audience in the room. For just over an hour, he became everyone’s son, and the warmth and – yes – love that flowed from both sides during that time made this one of the most magical theatre performances I’ve seen for a long time.