Mark Griffiths is writer of comedy, drama and children’s books. His new play We Apologise for the Inconvenience looks at Douglas Adams attempt to write a fourth book in the Hitchhikers Gudie to the Galaxy trilogy.
You are mostly known for children’s books, what has drawn you to the world of theatre?
I began my writing career as a scriptwriter – writing jokes and sketches for comedy shows on radio and TV – so I’ve always had one foot in writing for performance. You really can’t beat hearing an audience laugh at something you’ve written. After I first visited the Edinburgh Fringe about ten years ago, I really fancied the idea of writing a monologue for my friend Laura Harper to perform. This became a one-act play called The Lullaby Witch, which we first staged as part of the 24:7 Theatre Festival in Manchester and eventually took to the Fringe in 2010. It was a lot of fun to do and I’ve written several more plays since, including one for Radio 4. These plays allow me to delve into deeper and darker subject matter than I would normally explore in my children’s books and I love the teamwork aspect of putting on a show. Writing books is a very solitary activity by comparison.
You are based in the North West, which has some great theatres like Liverpool’s Everyman and Manchester’s HOME and Royal Exchange to name a few. Is it easier to put on a play here or is becoming just as competitive as London?
The type of plays I’ve written have been one-act, easy to stage studio pieces with small casts. The sort of thing you can put on in a room above a pub. There are numerous small venues in the North West that are looking for such shows and many towns have their own fringe theatre festivals, so it’s not too hard to put on a play somewhere should you want to. I’m sure there are numerous similar opportunities in London. The trick is to persuade the people who programme the larger venues to come to your show in the hope they’ll want to take it.
Whilst Adam’s extensive work in his short life is well known his personality seems a bit more of a mystery. How did you research Adams the man or is this very much your character with Adams as a base?
Well, his character isn’t that much of a mystery. There are four biographies of him out there and numerous written and video interviews available online, so it’s fairly easy to get an idea of his personality. And we have his work, of course, which gives us an insight into how that astounding brain of his worked. But yes, of course, ultimately this is a work of fiction rather than biography. It’s my version of Douglas Adams, although hopefully one formed by a very close attention to the man and his writing.
Are you a fan of Adams? Do you even need to be a fan of your subject as a playwright?
A huge fan! Seeing the TV version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was 10 completely blew my mind. Here was a show that was funny, surprisingly dark (people often forget that nowadays!) and scientifically literate. His voice – that combination of Wodehousian chattiness and scientific language – was hugely appealing and made a tremendous impact on me. I wouldn’t say you need to be a fan of someone to base a play on them. You just need an interesting slant or story to tell. I came across the incident the play is based on (Adams being locked in his hotel room to get him to finish a book) in Nick Webb’s biography of Adams Wish You Were Here. Webb even suggests that it might make a two-hander play! When I read that I thought, I write plays, I’m very interested in Douglas Adams. If anyone has to write this play, it’s me!
Have you worked on biographical plays before? Do you love it or embrace the challenge?
This is the first play I’ve written to feature a real person. I felt a great responsibility to get it right. Not necessarily in terms of accuracy to the actual events (which Adams would probably appreciate!) but to capture the flavour of the man – his wit, his intelligence, his ambitions, frustrations, and obsessions.
We Apologise for the Inconvenience is on for a short run in Manchester and Liverpool? Any plans for other cities?
No firm plans yet but we remain open to offers!
We Apologise for the Inconvenience is being performed in Liverpool and Manchester this November, for details and tickets go here;