Arvind Ethan David is the co-writer behind the only stage adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be approved and supported by Douglas Adams himself. Now based in LA Ethan David is a producer on the upcoming BBC America production of Dirk Gently and writes the Dirk Gently Comic series. We sat down with Arvind to talk all things Dirk and find out what makes the stage version of this classic novel so exciting.
What was your first experience of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency?
When I was 16 years old, I was in my school library looking for something not boring to read, and I found a copy of the original Douglas Adams novel. I started reading it and my brain exploded. Electric monks, time travel, pizza and a magic, vampiric detective! What teenage boy wouldn’t feel the same?
What inspired you to write Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency as a play?
Inspired is probably too fancy a world. I was 16 years old and it was my turn to direct the school play. I had just read and loved the book, and I didn’t know a lot of plays and most of them seemed dusty and fusty and old (I was an idiot). So with the cheerful arrogance of a teenager, I marched up to the teacher in charge and proclaimed my intention to adapt the novel into a play (with my schoolmate and friend, James Goss), and direct it, and (of course) play Dirk myself.
The journey didn’t end there; we staged the play again a couple years later at University when we were 18 years old and to our delight and amazement, Douglas Adams came to see and (then) two aspiring writer-producers had their careers jumpstarted.
Are there any elements of the story that you feel are more easily conveyed through the medium of theatre?
Dirk Gently himself: he’s a character made for the stage. Larger than life, charismatic, absurd, full of magic tricks and inexplicable powers, given to monologue and breaking the fourth wall – he’s an actor’s dream and an audience’s roller coaster ride.
What is it about the work of Douglas Adams that you think still resonates with so many different people?
Everything. His genius shines brighter with the passage of time, because you see how ahead of his time he was, in his style, in his influence, in his impact on popular culture and in the many, many ideas in technology and culture that he was so prescient about: the internet, conservation, story-telling. He manages to be both profound and funny at the same time. Throwing a million ideas and a million jokes a minute at you: it’s like it’s raining knives and custard pies at the same time.
Dirk Gently describes himself as a ‘holistic detective’ – what sort of detective do you think you would make and why?
A holistic detective is the only kind of detective I could ever be. Like Dirk, I have little practical knowledge, limited physical courage and only middling powers of deduction.
Speaking of which Dirk’s holistic approach is based on the fundamental belief that everything is interconnected – would you say that in any way you share these views?
Profoundly. My entire life has been an illustration of Dirk’s holistic principals.
I can trace every professional relationship in my life – and many personal one’s too – to writing this play and meeting Douglas Adams when I was a teenager. Now almost 25 years later, I’m still telling the story of this madcap detective and his inexplicable methods which proves at least in my particular case, the fundamental interconnection of all things is very real indeed.
You have worked closely with the character of Dirk Gently for some time, but if you had to describe him in no more than 100 words to a complete stranger to the work what would you say?
There’s a great British literary and dramatic tradition of detectives. Dirk doesn’t belong to it – except of course, he does, sort of. On a good day.
Dirk is psychic (except he’s not); he’s a vampire (or possibly half vampire, on his mother’s side), he’s got super powers, except he doesn’t understand them and they don’t help him very much. He’s both an unbelievable genius and an incredible moron. He’s foolish and comedic, but also wise and heroic. He’s a tragic figure, very lonely and in search of a friend and an adventure to justify his otherwise bizarre and inexplicable existence.
What would the staging requirements be for groups that are looking to perform Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency?
There’s a version of the show that just needs an empty space and lots of imagination. There’s another that needs a filmmaking/animation team and a Jazz Orchestra. And all spots in between. Honestly, the only limitation is the imagination of your company (and your audience).
What do you see as the main challenges for people who would want to stage Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency?
Persuading their teachers/theatres/producers/financiers that they aren’t mental, and that it makes total sense to stage a play that includes: time travel, at least two, possibly three, alternative universes, a horse, a ghost, a large musical number and a space ship
What do you view as being the key themes for people to explore within the play?
The interconnectedness of all things; or why it’s important to never give up on your teenage dreams.
And finally and rather importantly – Dirk is a massive fan of pizza in the series; what is your favourite pizza topping?
Fried Oysters & Spinach. Don’t mock it till you try it.