Gareth Kavanagh / Room 5064
The Three Minute Theatre, Manchester
25 November 2017
The writings of the late Douglas Adams are so much a part of popular culture that they are quoted by people who have never read his books or watched/listened to his shows. This makes it easy for anyone writing about Adams to get a reaction from an audience – just drop in the odd reference here and there and the fans will be happy. Admirably, although the occasional quote crops up, author Mark Griffiths avoids this temptation in his new play We Apologise For The Inconvenience.
Actually Griffiths is rather critical of Adams, pointing out the inconvenience that Adams’s pathological inability to meet any kind of deadline caused for those around him. The play details an incident when Adams’s publishers, despairing of ever seeing the manuscript of his fourth novel, locked him in a hotel room until the book was finished. Trapped, without company, Douglas Adams (Pete Gibson) resorts to talking to his plastic duck (Rachel Howard).
We Apologise For The Inconvenience is a well-observed script detailing the methods Adams used to procrastinate – taking endless baths and developing an interest in computers. But Griffiths does not allow the character the luxury of escaping into an endearing eccentric, suggesting that Adam’s lack of progress was as a result of him actually hating the writing process due to his awareness that he would never be as good as Wodehouse and that he would rather have been a comedian like John Cleese. It is a challenging approach but certainly makes for a more interesting play than one based on hero-worship.
Director Emma Bird walks a fine line with the production, ensuring that the very different acting styles of the cast complement each other rather than clash. Pete Gibson takes a naturalistic approach to the characterisation of Adams while Rachel Howard is brash and comedic – together they make for an exuberant show.
Adams always seemed displeased with his audience, as if he felt that they failed to appreciate how clever the gags were. Pete Gibson adopts this air of mild exasperation with his posh-voiced Adams addressing the audience like a weary headmaster. But underlying the approach is a sense of grievance as if the character really does believe someone of his talent should be free from mundane commitments like deadlines.
You have to feel sorry for Rachel Howard who, in addition to articulating the inner misgivings of Adams, has to act out or mime the various characters to whom reference is made. It is one thing to impersonate the likes of Cleese and Wodehouse but it is hard to characterise non-humans without going over the top.
At 45 minutes We Apologise For The Inconvenience does not overstay its welcome but it is a well-acted production that gets under the skin of the subject to pay respectful and affectionate tribute to a much-missed author.
Reviewer: David Cunningham