We Apologise for the InconvenienceOctober 19, 2018
Any science-fiction fan worth their salt will be aware of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams’ hit series about life, the universe and everything. Whether you’ve come it through the radio series, or perhaps the BBC television series (recently issued on Blu-ray), the story of Arthur Dent and the mad rabble he ends up with has enchanted millions of fans. Even if you’ve been living in a bubble, some of the jokes are such a part of our popular culture, you’ll know it even if you don’t realise it.
What some of those fans may not necessarily have realised was Adams’ immense struggle with deadlines and the pressure to succeed. Hell, as Douglas puts it, is sold in “five ream boxes”. We Apologise for the Inconvenience, written by Mark Griffiths, is a new play that sees Douglas Adams, during the writing of his fourth book locked in a hotel room by his editor who is refusing to let him out until the book is written. What follows is a tale of pressure, procrastination and a yellow bath duck..
Below are my production diaries on a play that’s out of this world:
8 April 2018 – Auditions
Auditions are taking place in central Manchester over the next two days for the roles of Douglas and the Duck. With the numbers finalised, myself, Ross Kelly (Director), Mark Griffiths (Writer) and Gareth Kavanagh (Producer) start seeing the actors. Notes are furiously scribbled, some names are crossed out, other arrows flit between Douglas and the Duck, “charming”, “posh” and “gangster” describe just some of the performances.
Mark’s script for the Duck sparkles into life especially well with an infinite improbability of variations of the Duck’s character and style walking through the door as each actor brings something completely different. We all scratch our heads in between each actor – who will complement each other? Rob Stuart-Hudson, the actor who wins the part of the Duck, completely blows the panel away with a brash American accent and impeccable comic timing whilst Adam Gardiner pulls off the foppishness of Douglas, but also is extremely engaging to watch – something that will be vitally important to his opening soliloquy.
Whilst there are commiserations for the actors unsuccessful on this occasion, there’s a toast to the new team and a synchronisation of diaries before the hard work starts.
April – May 2018
Rehearsal time. After an initial phootshoot, it’s down to business and working through the script.
Director Ross Kelly’s keen eye of detail sees Adam and Rob individually and jointly going over their scenes.
There’s a lot riding on Adam’s shoulders – opening the play he needs to hold the attention of the audience, convey the plot and the essence of one of the greatest writers of modern times alone to the audience. It’s testament to Ross’s support and Adam’s focus that this is a hurdle quickly overcome.
There would have been a temptation to indulge in hero worship in the script, and possibly the performance. Certainly, Adams’ eccentricities come to the fore along with some of the catchphrases closely associated with him. But Griffith’s’ script deftly avoids slipping into this and instead allows for some slapstick comedy thanks to the inclusion of a pan-dimensional Duck.
Ross and Rob work closely on the entrance of the Duck, and as the rehearsal period goes on, the physicality and manner of the Duck’s relationship with Douglas becomes a key focus.
Rehearsals took place in the function room of my workplace, so whilst I was on duty, I was able to pop in and out and see the evolution of certain scenes. It’s a very friendly and convivial working style. No arguments, no dramas, just hard work and strong groundwork being laid.
Towards of the end of this period, video animation comes in from Andrew Orton. Some readers may be aware of his Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Daleks video which perfectly recreated the cel-shaded style the Hitch-hiker’s Guide TV series was known for.
For the first time, the video is married up to Paul Phillips’ lyrical sounds, reminiscent of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s original soundscape for the radio series. The result blows us all away, as is just the boost needed to give the final polish before the performances. You can see the result in the trailer for the play below:
24-25 May 2018 – Performance Nights
After a successful technical run, it’s opening night at Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre, an ideal stage for the play. Audiences were so packed for the two nights that it was almost standing room only at one point, with faces old and new joining us for the opening night. And tickets selling out for the second night well in advance.
Some avid Douglas Adams fans were spotted in the audience, as well as some seasoned theatregoers intrigued by the description of the play. Thankfully the reaction is extremely positive, there’s laughter in all of the right places (and some places we weren’t expecting) and the audience is captured by the performances and jokes.
The addition of the animation at the end is the icing on the cake as the hard work pays off. The invited press was also enthusiastic about the play:
“[WAFTI] was a delightful, well-crafted, and superbly acted piece of well researched and clever comedy.” – Reviewer Number 9
“A well-acted production that gets under the skin of the subject to pay respectful and affectionate tribute to a much-missed author” – Manchester Theatre Awards
“Plenty of good jokes abound and this two-hander play is fun, and I can thoroughly recommend it” – Canal St Online
Adam is clearly caught in a time loop, as he is celebrating the play afterwards, he ends up sat at a local pub – at table number 42!
Bringing things up to date, the play has been recorded as a radio drama, possibly for release further down the line. Adam, Rob and Ross reunited recently to prepare rehearsals to travel to Birmingham, and the Old Joint Stock Theatre for a two-night run in preparation for the play to travel further afield during 2019.
Sadly, I can’t be at the Birmingham run, but we’re all very excited to have the chance to bring this story to a new audience. The play is on tour in Birmingham this weekend at The Old Joint Stock Theatre. Tickets are just a snip at £12 and available here.