7 June 2017

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time - Theatre Royal

I remember reading The Curious Incident (I think I’ll shorten the title to that to save my fingers and your time) about thirteen years ago, not long after it had been published in 2003. Mark Haddon’s tale of Christopher Boone, a fifteen year-old boy with ‘behavioural problems’ who happens to be a maths genius definitely struck a chord with me at the time. I think it was the way it was written from his perspective, giving an insight into having an ‘unusual’ and often misunderstood brain that pulled me in, and the millions of others who have taken the book to their hearts over the years. 

Lucianne McEvoy, Oliver Boot and Scott Reid (Christopher Boone), Bruce McGregor
Following the success of the novel (which won Whitbread Book Awards and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize) it seemed natural that at some point it would be adapted for the stage. Five years ago, Simon Stephens’ adaptation premiered at the National Theatre (directed by Marianne Elliot) to critical acclaim (it has since won seven Olivier Awards and five Tony awards). After half a decade in the West End, the production is touring the UK and Ireland, giving theatre lovers and fans of the book the opportunity to see this moving adaption. 

Despite incredible performances by the cast, it’s impossible to talk about the play without first enthusing about the staging. From the first moment I was mesmerised by the stage, and the beauty of LED grids, images and words (even constellations and maps) projected onto all surfaces, the sheer brilliance of the technology involved (how you incorporate a moving train set into the stage is beyond me). The grids and lighting projections are cleverly used to create Christopher’s neighbourhood, complete with house numbers, with white blocks cleverly used for everything from TVs to seats to luggage on a train. 

The staging is amazing 
It takes a while to process the imagery of the opening scene - a neighbour’s dog skewered to death with a garden fork, its corpse outlined with chalk, a ‘murder scene.’ We learn that Christopher is a big Sherlock Holmes fan (the title of the book/play is an Arthur Conan Doyle quote), and decides to solve the mystery of the dog’s murder, despite his permanently worried father telling him to stay out of other people’s business. The initial mystery ends up morphing into a much more personal quest. The play switches between narration at points by Christopher’s teacher Siobhan and live action, and is effectively a “play-within-a-play.”

The cast portray all walks of life in this typical estate in Swindon (they are seated around the stage when not involved in the action) with many laugh-out-loud moments (I completely approve of in- depth discussions about Battenberg cake). The action switches between the neighbourhood and Christopher’s school, which we quickly learn is a special needs school (it’s implied that Christopher has Aspergers Syndrome based on his inability to understand metaphors, behavioural issues and mathematical brilliance). His relationship with his teacher Siobhan is touching; she teaches him how to deal with society and how to interact with the world better. 

I was surprised and moved by the physical theatre involved, and the use of movement to portray Christopher’s topsy-turvy and often confused interaction with the world. At one point he is lifted by his cast members to pretend he’s floating in space; later on in the play when he bravely ventures to London on the train, he is flipped and turned upside down to depict his disorientation in this strange and overwhelming place. There’s also a fight scene which is particularly well choreographed, and flashback scenes which are technically brilliant. 

Curious Company 
The use of props was imaginative (a scene where Christopher is rummaging around under his bed in the dark is so creatively brilliant) and I strangely enjoyed how sections of the walls could be opened and closed.  Fragments of the book came back as I watched (it’s funny how we forget so many details and I thought to myself how great it is that audiences get to witness the emotional intensity of this production, especially those that might not have read the book. At one point I nearly cried at the beauty of papers falling from the sky onto the stage above Christopher, and what they signify for him. 

Despite all of Christopher’s issues, family problems, and challenges interacting with the world around him, the production is full of humour, which is perfectly timed and necessary to balance out some of the more difficult moments. Scott Reid’s portrayal of Christopher is flawless and totally believable, instantly making us empathise with his situation and want to understand the inner workings of his complex mind (and root for him as the story develops). David Michaels as Christopher’s father Ed expertly conveys the frustrations and worry that comes with parenting a child who is ‘different’ and Emma Beattie (Judy Boone) shines as Christopher’s mother who tries to repair their estranged relationship. I also enjoyed Lucianne McEvoy’s performance as Siobhan/the narrator, who really captures Christopher’s soul and gives us even more insight into what makes him tick. If you go along, don’t dash off too quickly at the end (you’ll see what I mean). 

Christopher (Scott Reid) and Ed (David Michaels)
In the end, it’s so much more than just a novel or a play. It challenges the labels we use for people who don’t fit into societal norms, how we understand each other as human beings and is a testament to the courage of the human spirit. As Mark Haddon says in the programme, “Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.” 
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time runs is showing at the Theatre Royal until 10th June. To book tickets click here 


Find out more about the production here 

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