Ben Norris wants to get to know his dad. So he hitches his way south on the M1 – ultimate destination Wembley – leaving his father behind at the Nottingham family home. In his lifetime so far, Ben hasn’t managed to figure out his dad; he’s only been struck at how different they are (he and his mum are ‘like peas in a pod’), and this bugs him as a young adult.
Norris claims that everyone has a hitchhiking story – and whether that’s true or not, his is entertaining anyway. Norris hitches lifts from a long list of characters, whom he photographs for our benefit, and whose own stories become chapters in his.
His travelogue is creatively told with the help of animated slides, placards with his stops emblazoned on them, and a range of props brought out of his rucksack like rabbits from a hat. By the end of the show, the stage which began as the long empty road ahead is littered with all kinds of things – a teddy bear named Paul Dean after Norris’s first two lifts, clean T-shirts for every occasion, a wig, a cassette of his dad’s music he played in the car, torches and more. These don’t sound especially interesting when listed like that, but each plays a valuable and often fun supporting role in the show.
It’s an inventive show too, and Norris tells his self-penned tale in verse, very well. He’s an engaging and likeable chap, if a bit sentimental at times. And though it’s well described, there’s something a bit contrived about the quest to get to know his dad this way – the man in question is alive and kicking and going to football matches in Nottingham. All the same, as he takes in his dad’s former habitats and old friends of his dad, his aim is fulfilled (at least to an extent) by their anecdotes.
But does he make it to Wembley (or Wemberley, as he repeatedly refers to it)? That’s for audiences to find out and not for me to reveal. There’s something here to amuse most attendees; if in doubt, you can check out Norris’s blog at thehitchhikersguidetothefamily.com. But I’d say the show is definitely worth a punt, and Norris has further to go now his travels have broadened his horizons a bit.