What’s it all about?
More than 10 million copies of Mark Haddon’s prize-winning novel have been sold since its release in 2003, but if you’re one of the few who didn’t pick up a copy and race through its gripping tale in the time it takes its protagonist to solve a simple maths equation it goes a bit like this:
Christopher, a 15-year-old with a behavioural condition and an extraordinary mind, finds his neighbour’s dog Wellington dead, having been impaled with a garden fork. The narrative follows Christopher as he seeks to discover who committed the canine killing, leading him on a journey into an unknown world where he never goes alone.
For those more au fait with Haddon’s unique and memorable story, playwright Simon Stephens has framed the story as a play staged at Christopher’s school, incorporating narration as well as a few hints of direction from Christopher himself.
Who’s in it?
Graham Butler gives a commendable performance in the role that earned Luke Treadaway his Olivier Award in 2013. The actor paints a vivid portrait of a teenager living with a behavioural condition, brilliantly capturing Christopher’s lack of emotion during what would usually be euphoric occasions, insurmountable fear in what, to most people, are everyday situations and physical revulsion to normal human contact. There is good support from Nicolas Tennant as Christopher’s aggressive but repentant father, Sarah Woodward as his encouraging teacher and My Hero’s Emily Joyce, who gives a memorable performance as a mother who desperately wants to connect with her child.
What should I look out for?
The mesmerising combination of Bunny Christie’s innovative set and Finn Ross’ eye-catching video projections. The pair shared the 2013 Olivier Award for Best Set Design and boy did they deserve it.
Who was in the press night crowd?
Who wasn’t? From the National Theatre’s Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner and Movement Director Scott Graham to actors Iain Glen, Joanne Froggatt, Andrew Scott and Natascha McElhone, there were plenty of familiar faces out in Theatreland to welcome this acclaimed show back to the West End. Even Michel Roux Jr put down his apron to enjoy a night out courtesy of Marianne Elliott’s compelling show.
In a nutshell?
Some books are so good they should stay as books. Some adaptations are so breathtaking they manage to surpass the experience of reading the original story. This is one of them.
What’s being said on Twitter?
@drshowbiz Not many shows are better 2nd time round but #curiousincident is certainly one. Congrats to all involved
@ammolisa Compelling reopening of curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. Fantastic! @curiousonstage @NationalTheatre #curiousincident
Will I like it?
Fans of the book may at first be reluctant to see the show, believing a story so unique couldn’t possibly be conveyed as well on stage as it was on the pages of Haddon’s book. Those people must have forgotten that Curious Incident was in the hands of the woman whose co-direction of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse made puppets seem more life-like than real horses, that Curious Incident picked up a staggering seven Olivier Awards, the most awards ever given to a play, at last year’s ceremony, and that Curious Incident stars a real rodent called Battenberg, who shares the role of Toby with another rat named Splat. Need I say anymore?
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is booking until 14 February 2015. You can book tickets through us.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time originally played at the Apollo Theatre in 2013 when the following First Night Feature by Charlotte Marshall was published:
After wowing audiences at the National Theatre, Simon Stephens’ exhilarating adaptation of best-selling novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has arrived in the West End.
Any fears the show would get lost in its new bigger surroundings are redundant. Luke Treadaway’s performance as 15-year-old Christopher, a boy with Aspergers and a passion for solving mysteries, is still exceptional and director Marianne Elliott’s imaginative work proves there is more than enough room on Shaftesbury Avenue for innovative staging.
From the pages of Mark Haddon’s book, Christopher and his world come alive on Bunny Christie’s interactive grid set. What the mathematical genius cannot vocalise himself, his teacher Siobhan does; re-telling the journey Christopher embarks on to find out who has killed his neighbour’s dog, which she discovers he has written down in a book, allowing her to become the show’s narrator as she revels in his unknowingly brilliant turn of phrase and witty observations.
We delve further into the inner workings of Christopher’s outwardly introverted mind by way of Christie’s equally genius set. Like a giant etch-a-sketch, complicated maths problems light up like maps as pedant Christopher solves them without breaking a sweat and thousands of stars appear as Christopher dreams of becoming an astronaut.
But taken out of the safety of his home or school room and the world can be a terrifying place. London is a mass of noisy adverts and unwanted physical contact causing Christopher’s mind to spin frighteningly away from him and Christie’s set to fill with an overwhelming rush of numbers.
While his suffering parents are allowed just the briefest moments of physical contact by their son, Frantic Assembly’s stunning movement direction and the help of the – presumably muscular – cast allows for Christopher to conquer escalators, ride the tube alone and revel in his imagination where he rolls around in space, all without need for props or set changes.
The play is a visual spectacular, but also an emotional ride that evokes more than a touch of Stephens’ trademark punk spirit. Niamh Cusack’s energetic performance as Christopher’s champion is inspiring, while Holly Aird and Seán Gleeson are heart-breakingly weary as parents who cannot afford for their son to discover their imperfections.
But this is Treadaway’s show, an accolade justly deserved with an all-consuming performance that allows him not one second of rest from Christopher’s twitching, ever-thinking, sometimes exhausting, sometimes awe-inspiring existence.
While this existence embedded in logic may be seen as a life lived in black and white, Stephens shows it to be also one of vivid colour, detail and magnification. And one that has been brought to the stage with sensational results.
Prior to its West End run The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time opened at the National Theatre, when the following First Night Feature by Matthew Amer was published:
It proved easier, earlier this week, to count the number of colleagues who hadn’t read The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time than those who had.
Mark Haddon’s book, published in 2003, was 50 Shades Of Grey-esque – though with considerably less spanking – in its domination of train journeys and sun loungers, selling more than two million copies.
So the new production at the National Theatre comes with no little amount of expectation. That, however, could be said about almost every new production at the South Bank venue these days.
If you’re one of the few who hasn’t thumbed the pages of Haddon’s novel, the plot follows Christopher, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, a brilliant mathematician who lacks social skills and the ability to empathise, and responds to physical contact with levels of violence currently being seen in the Olympic boxing ring. The discovery of a neighbour’s skewered dog inspires Christopher to begin an investigation that uncovers more than a canine crime and proves he can achieve anything.
It whiffs a little of cheddar when written like that, and there is certainly an element of the sentimental about the production. One moment in particular deliberately and shamelessly sets out to ramp up the ‘Ahh’ level in the audience and achieves its goal with ease.
But the production is far more than an exercise in sentimental string pulling. In Paul Ritter’s Ed, Christopher’s dad, we see a man pushed to his limit and torn apart by his son’s behaviour and a secret he fears sharing. Nicola Walker’s Judy, Christopher’s mum, desperately wants to be able to cope with her son’s testing character but can’t quite find the strength. There’s nothing sentimental about these portrayals of parents trying their best.
Luke Treadaway, as Christopher, has a wonderful deliberateness to his delivery of Simon Stephens’ lines; a simple matter of factness that is both devoid of emotion and somehow often endearingly warm.
But this is not even the half of it. While the beautifully shaped characters are at the centre of the production, Stephens has slipped in a layer of meta-confusion. The play we’re seeing is actually a play being performed at Christopher’s school, based on his experiences. It is done subtly and only referred to sparingly, mostly to snatch an easy but fulfilling giggle, but it does mean that, if you think too hard about that suggestion, a lot of Marianne Elliott’s sense-bombarding production seems a touch odd. This school wouldn’t have a Frantic Assembly level of physical theatre tossed liberally throughout the play, it wouldn’t have a criss cross floor hiding all manner of surprises and it wouldn’t have the enchanting first half ending.
It is an equation that doesn’t quite add up, which would undoubtedly infuriate Christopher. The answer, of course, is to not examine it in such excruciating detail. Then you can simply accept that touching story + fabulous performances x playful staging = an entertaining and emotional night of theatre.
PS. If you see the show and enjoy Treadaway’s performance, don’t leave at the curtain call. Sit tight. You’ll find out why. You can also see The Curious Incident when it is screened as part of NT Live on 6 September.