BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

15/10/2019 - 15/10/2019

NZ Improv Festival 2019

Production Details

An improvised radio drama inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio shows. An Earthling and their alien friend escape Earth, only to discover that it is a big, strange universe out there. Truthful relationships, detailed descriptions, live sound effects, and playful scenework will bring the fantastical world beyond Earth to life. The destination is not important, what matters is the journey.

Accessibility: This is a completely accessible show for performers and audience members who are blind/low vision/vision impaired.

Susan is an actor and improviser. She has been a member of WIT on and off since 2013. Susan has a certificate in performing arts from UCOL, and a Diploma in stage and screen arts from Whitireia, and has been in more community theatre than you can shake an invisible stick at. She is also a queer, functionally blind, chronically ill, geek, and proud of it! This is her second year at NZIF, having made her debut co-teaching and co-directing Stories of the Darkest Night last year.  

BATS Theatre: The Heyday Dome
15 October 2019
at 7pm
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $15
Full Price Season Pass – 3 shows for $45 
Concession Price Season Pass – 3 shows for $36 

NZ Improv Festival

*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Theatre ,

1 hr

Accessible, character-driven, whimsical and entertaining

Review by Lyndon Hood 17th Oct 2019

Galactapedia: Thumbing Through the Universe is conceived as an improvised live ‘radio’ play, accessible to blind and partially sighted people. At least some members of that community have made their way up to the Dome Theatre at Bats to join the audience. So director/narrator Susan Williams begins by describing the stage.

On the audience’s left, three improvisers sit at a desk stocked with microphones and miscellaneous noise making devices – crinkly packets, an egg beater, a duck call… – for the creation of live sound effects. Four more stand with microphones at the centre of the stage while Williams sits with another at the right. (Jasmine Bryham and Darryn Woods are later credited for all this tech.)

The story takes place somewhere else entirely. When I close my eyes, the scenery, backed up by the Foley sound effects from Ben Ratchford and Jaklene Vukasinovic, is more varied and vivid than just about any other kind of live performance.  

It begins with an all-in flight from revving danger on the tractor planet (formerly known as Earth) and travels the galaxy to include, for example, the extremely good-looking and physiologically-cylindrical ship’s Captain being dangled upside down from a lasso trap and emotionally manipulated by psychic ghost ducks. There’s not really more description of the environments than in any other improv show, but it is more free, and imagination rushes in to fill the gaps to its own satisfaction. 

The format shows homage to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series (first and best instalment of that franchise). Not least in the voice of Galactapedia (Breton Hodgson), which breaks up the action with authoritative-sounding user-edited information – on topics such as morality, docking (the kind ships do; apparently a private matter between consenting vessels), compliments, and the inevitability of the robot uprising – providing light relief, background information or obfuscation as the mood strikes. 

I’m also reminded of the TV series Red Dwarf: a ragtag crew get themselves into whimsical yet still kind of terrifying danger, mostly as a result of their own personal flaws, and respond mostly by bickering with each other. 

In this case, human Monika Shaw (Rosa Sottile), while attempt to hide from rampaging lawn mowers, accidentally stows away on the lander from the space ship of Captain Mac (Jim Fishwick), piloted by robot Simon (voiced by Rik Brown and, with the audience offer of “fear”, latching on to every idea of inevitable doom that comes to hand). Sometime later Mac attempts to improve crew morale with team building day on the planet of rope courses and ice cream. During the first rope course the team belatedly begin to realise they are in danger, from what turns out to be terror ducks.  

Ratchford operates the duck call but Vukasinovic gives them a voice, put through the ‘chorus of possessed children’ audio filter by tech operator Bryham. They chant things like “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” and “Stay with us…”, and cause a genuine horror-movie stir in the audience on debut. In a flashback, they remotely subvert Elsie the ship’s computer (Ali Little). The scene where the voices gradually wear down the mind of the captured (and admittedly not very bright) Captain Mac is absolutely riveting; comedy which still carries the same flavour of tension as the riddle scene in The Hobbit.

Once the crew find their Captain and begin to battle/flee-in-makeshift-hanglider from whatever terrible fate the ducks have in mind, we begin to experience the format’s potential for fast-paced, rapidly varying action. It’s a frustration that there isn’t more of that and less time between when it’s become clear the crew are under attack and when they really respond. That said, the ongoing interplay between the characters continues to raise laughs throughout and the time is not wasted.

The improvisers take the chance to be more fanciful in the characters’ attributes and actions than the usual ‘miming-on-a-stage-with-some-chairs’ improv allows. With more practice in the format there might also be the potential to give their settings that same touch and play with the mind-boggling bigness of space.

The show ends on a cliffhanger, the embattled crew fighting to reach safety, hounded by ducks. We regret there is no “next week’s episode” to tune in to.

Galactapedia is an accessible, character-driven, whimsical and entertaining sci-fi adventure. The audience, sighted and otherwise, seems to have a great time. 


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