❉ This new one-act play by Mark Griffiths, takes a look at a moment in Douglas Adams’ career when he was in complete creative deadlock.
“The play succeeds in peeking behind the curtain of his public persona in an entertaining and engaging fashion without remotely outstaying its welcome… Griffiths does well to bring in Adams’ charm and captures some of his giddy flights of fancy, which in truth could walk a fine line with self-indulgent over-thinking…”
It might be Towel Day 2018, but at 3MT Theatre in Manchester it’s Almost Throwing in the Towel Day. We Apologise for the Inconvenience, a new one-act play by Mark Griffiths, takes an expressionistic look at a moment in Douglas Adams’ career when he was in complete creative deadlock. In summer 1984, way beyond late with the manuscript for his fourth Hitchhiker book (which became So Long and Thanks for All the Fish), he was booked into a hotel suite with Pan editorial director Sonny Mehta and not allowed out until he’d finished it.
Improbably, it’s already been 17 years since Adams died. In the time since, several biographies of the man have been published, but this is the first attempt to get right inside his head. One of those biographies, Nick Webb’s Wish You Were Here, related the aforementioned hotel suite episode and mused in a footnote ‘would make a two-hander play?’. That observation has inspired We Apologise for the Inconvenience, though it’s not quite the play that Webb suggested. For one thing, Sonny Mehta is reduced to an insistent knock on the door.
Technically this is almost a one-man show, or at least one man and one feathered figment of his imagination. It’s replete with key bits of Adams iconography – dressing gowns, tea, towels, baths and a rubber duck. Because, to quote the Captain of the ‘B’ Ark, “One’s never alone with a rubber duck”, and in this instance, in the depths of his despair, Adams imagines his sprouting a personality and arguing the toss with him.
What’s particularly intriguing here is that Adams was an ardent self-mythologiser, eager to present a version of himself as jolly, twinkly and possessed of an easy charm. This digs beneath that and shows him as something like an overgrown schoolboy being forced to do his homework. Effectively, he’s lonely and frustrated, tussling with his own demons. At times he’s ungrateful and petty, railing against the unfairness of not being John Cleese, or the Hitchhiker movie not getting made, or having to actually write books.
Mind you, that’s not to say that it’s an intense, joyless piece about creative stasis. Far from it. Griffiths does well to bring in Adams’ charm too, and as a whole it’s often very funny. The Duck, embodied here by Rob Stuart-Hudson, is a real hoot (and there’s a beautifully-judged ’42’ gag). There’s perhaps a risk that Adams himself, played by Adam Gardiner, comes off as a pretentious churl in comparison. To its enormous credit though the script manages to steer clear of the dreary, forced sub-Adams voice of which many writers who’ve been inspired by him have been guilty. It humanises the character and captures some of his giddy flights of fancy, which in truth could walk a fine line with self-indulgent over-thinking (looking at you here, Mr Different Adams of The Burkiss Way).
It’s possible that the piece gives Adams a slightly easy ride and could challenge his cosseted sense of ingratitude even further. After all, they may not be reliant on waiting for the muse, but teachers, fire-fighters and student doctors don’t have the luxury of chortling at the whooshing of deadlines while titanic advances sit in the bank. Nor do young unpublished authors. But to a large degree it succeeds in peeking behind the curtain of his public persona in an entertaining and engaging fashion without remotely outstaying its welcome. It also steers clear, just about, of any toe-curling depictions of ‘Eureka!’ moments of major inspiration.
It runs to less than an hour, the staging here couldn’t be simpler and the uncluttered production is the polar opposite of the often busy, frantic feel of Hitchhiker. There are embryonic plans for a touring version and if they come off fans nationwide will surely appreciate what it has to say, along with the array of neat little touches such as the framing animation in the style of the 1981 TV series. In all We Apologise for the Inconvenience is a smart, fond, funny tribute to Adams the man at his most raw and revealing, which in spite of the set-up is never downbeat, or indeed downbeak.
❉ Written by Mark Griffiths and produced by Room 5064 Productions, ‘We Apologise for the Inconvenience’ was performed at Three Minute Theatre in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on May 24th and with a special ‘Towel Day’ performance on May 25th, in advance of the Autumn/Winter tour. Actor Rob Hudson plays the Duck, while Adam Gardiner takes on the role of author Douglas Adams.
❉ Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to Big Issue North. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for Television. He’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.
❉ Image credits: Photography © Lorraine Ayrton, artwork © Andrew Orton.