Manic Miner. POKE and PEEK. The Acorn Electron and the Oric-1. Do you have the slightest idea what I’m talking about? If so, then you’re probably in your forties, and you’re squarely in the target demographic for Hey Hey 16K – an unashamedly obscure celebration of an almost magical childhood. The microcomputer boom of the 1980’s inspired a whole generation of technically-aware teenagers, and if you were among the millions of kids who prodded the rubber keys of a ZX81 then you’re pretty much guaranteed to love this funny, inspiring show.
Let’s be clear from the start, though: Hey Hey 16K contains a lot of elements I’m really supposed to complain about. It’s crammed into the corner of a random Buxton restaurant, and it’s performed by two men in ludicrous wigs, whose loveable charisma disguises the fact that they honestly can't act for toffee. Mistakes are frequent, the only prop is a Hula Hoop, and the “rock opera” accompaniment consists of a kazoo and an acoustic guitar. It is, in short, a back-room bodge of a show… but then again, back in the 8-bit age, a lot of creative masterpieces were bodged in back rooms.
It’s about much more than witty lyrics though, because Hey Hey 16K is also a superbly constructed piece of musical theatre. The geeky nostalgia is just the entry point; the storyline evolves into a piquant and pertinent commentary on what happens as a generation grows up, and collectively enters middle age. Hibbett and Steve deliver an eloquent riposte to the glorification of youth, rejecting the idea that life’s great experiences must be had by the age of thirty. And with the wisdom and perspective that only comes with time, the pair also touch on questions of personal fulfilment… concluding in the end that, while success is very pleasant, it’s so much better to do the things you enjoy.
To deliver such life-affirming messages – with a lightness of touch, and never a hint of sermonising – is achievement enough for any show. But to wrap them up in non-stop laughter, and bind them into songs I still find myself humming, is surely a work of genius. Like the wannabe BASIC masterpieces I coded in my youth, Hey Hey 16K is as thoughtful and creative as it’s rudimentary and ramshackle. It’s a VIC-20 show in an iPhone Fringe, but you know what? I just can’t help loving them for it.