This is my review of the 2017 debut performance of We Apologise For The Inconvenience, an infinitely improbable play by Mark Griffiths about Douglas Adams and his struggle with a complete and utter lack of inspiration for what eventually became So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish as the publisher’s absolute non-negotiable final deadline hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t. It was originally written as a guest post for Shanine Salmon’s sparky theatre review blog View From The Cheap Seat, which much like the entertainment industry itself took a bit of a hit during lockdown but has more recently started to step back out onto centre stage again, so I really do recommend having a look at it here. We Apologise For The Inconvenience was something of a minor instant hit and has since gone through several further productions; if you’re wondering what all of the fuss is about, you can get an audio version of We Apologise For The Inconvenience from Amazon here, or as a CD, vinyl album and script book here.
This is the original version of the original review; if you’re interested, you can find a longer version of it, including hazy memories of an encounter with a So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish in-store display featuring illustrations that mysteriously bore no relation to anything in the finished novel – probably around the same time that Douglas Adams was enduring the creative panic that this lost storyline was presumably discarded as part of – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. You might also want to listen to Mark on Looks Unfamiliar – which includes a chat about the very much Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-adjacent BBC Sci-Fi Sound Effects album – here. You can also find Shanine on Looks Unfamiliar here and here.
By a totally staggering coincidence, 81 Renshaw – Liverpool’s newest and most exciting Arts Centre – is just across the road from the former site of Wilson’s, the independent bookstore where as a The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-obsessed youngster I once stood and stared at a poster announcing the imminent-ish publication of So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. Tonight, it’s playing host to a one-act play about how, thanks to Douglas Adams’ notoriously relaxed attitude to deadlines, there was nearly never a poster to see.
We Apologise For The Inconvenience takes place during a fraught episode when Douglas Adams’ agent locked him in a hotel room and refused to let him leave until he had finished the book. With his rigid schedule of long baths in chaos and not a single Dire Straits album to hand to distract him, Adams finds himself in conversation with a rubber duck, who encourages and insults him into digging deep for fresh inspiration. What emerges is a warm, witty portrait of a man who is blithe and arrogant about all the wrong things – as the duck reminds him, he made his actual fame and fortune on the back of reworked radio scripts – and insecure about his innate sense of comedy and profound ability to manipulate the English Language. It’s probably not difficult to work out how and where this all ends up, but even the most ardent fan of Tricia McMillan and company might well find themselves looking at certain of the book’s more contentious aspects in a new and more sympathetic light.
Writer Mark Griffiths – a lifelong fan of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and someone whose path through topical radio sketch shows in some ways mirrored Adams’ own – came up with the idea for We Apologise For The Inconvenience when he read a biography of the author which described the incident as resembling a two-hander play. Wisely resisting the temptation to fill the dialogue with quotations and references – though some familiar phrases and subtler nods to everything from Adams’ Mac evangelism to his subsequent quests to document endangered species are there for anyone who wants to pick up on them – this is instead an engaging look at the doubts and lack of self-belief of a writer who can suddenly no longer luxuriate in his famous quote about loving deadlines and “the whooshing noise they make as they go by”. Nor indeed luxuriate in his bath.
As Adams, Pete Gibson strikes the perfect note between condescending bravado and a lack of faith in his own abilities, and throws in an impressively restrained yet also somehow spot on impersonation of John Cleese in a touching moment examining Adams’ perceived failure to live up to his comic idol. Clearly relishing the sarcastic and often surreal dialogue, the energetic Rachel Howard is a suitably combative and comic Duck – and, at one point, P.G. Wodehouse – and had the audience in stitches with her impressionistic physical responses to Adams’ flights of grandeur. The two are a genuinely effective combination and after forty five minutes of laughing along at their bickering, it’s joyous to witness their excitement at finally arriving at the off-the-wall ideas that will get the book completed.
Funny and inspiring in equal measure, We Apologise For The Inconvenience is a minor triumph that will hopefully have an accident with a few rubber bands, a liquid lunch and a particle accelerator, and find some well deserved exposure beyond its current limited run.
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You can find an extended version of this review of We Apologise For The Inconvenience – with more on that mysterious in-store display for So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. It’s better than tea, Arthur. Just accept it.
You can find Mark on Looks Unfamiliar – talking about Five Minutes by Mainframe, The Bloke Who Pulled His Pants Down On Kilroy, Disneyland by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Charles Hawtrey as a vampire on Runaround, BBC Records And Tapes’ Off Beat Sound Effects, and missing the first episode of a new series of Doctor Who because you were at the Doctor Who exhibition in Blackpool – here.
Mark has also appeared on It’s Good, Except It Sucks talking about Avengers Assemble, which you can find here.
You can read more about some of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy‘s less well remembered contemporaries in The Sci-Fi That Time Forgot here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.