A few years ago I read Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I remember it vividly, partly for the fact that for most of the time I was reading it, I too was commuting from a small town (Oxford, in my case) to London. And at first, it is scary – I completely understood Christopher’s plight.
But outside of that, I was utterly enthralled by this captivating novel, and have been wanting to watch the theatrical adaptation for a long time. And after I watched this National Theatre production, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliot, win seven Olivier Awards at this year’s ceremony, I booked my ticket with haste.
Here’s the summary from the Apollo Theatre website:
Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington.
He has an extraordinary brain, exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.
One of the beauties of the book is how it functions as both a story and evidence of Christopher’s own work – a book in a book, if you will. With pages full of just prime numbers in some instances, it was difficult to tell how this would translate to the stage. Simon Stephen’s brilliant adaptation not only recognises this, but embraces it, and in a bid to settle Christopher, his teacher Siobhan suggests he turn his experiences into a play, and we are presented with a lovely and amusing meta-version of the story during the production, including a delightfully wry section at the end*.
There are two things that make this play the success it is. The first of which is Luke Treadaway, who won an Olivier for his performance (he only plays on certain nights of the week so make sure you book wisely – although I’m sure the other actor is very good as well). Playing an autistic character is a challenge, especially as this main character dominates the play and is on stage throughout. Yet Luke Treadaway manages to perform this role with enough finesse that Christopher comes across as a vulnerable yet watchable, misunderstood yet likeable character. The difficulties in playing a fifteen-year-old boy with the sensibilities of a child much younger are also effectively overcome. I love Christopher’s character and not once do you side against him, despite his misguided view of how some things are in life. And Treadaway brings him to life in such a way that you end up loving him even more, through attributes that aren’t as visible in the book, such as his humour and physical mannerisms.
The second thing that I found amazing in this play was the set. It was incredibly cool, and so versatile. A cube-like set scored with graphical lines, we are immediately transported into how Christopher sees the world; with the mathematical precision of a genius, the algorithms display how people, places and ideas relate to each other. There were secret boxes all around the stage where characters could pull out objects, create scenery and even form bigger pieces of set. At one point, the set forms a scary replica of a tube station, the platform being separated from the tracks using levels, wiring and lights. When Christopher climbs down onto the tracks I was truly terrified as it was so lifelike (you need to have been to London to understand). The floor and walls could also be used electronically to illustrate the kind of things that were going on inside Christopher’s head, like his thoughts, reactions and mental state. I found these parts to be particularly enlightening and disheartening at the same time; I don’t think I’ll ever come close to understanding what everyday life’s like for an autistic person, but those times were where I came closest. And of course, talking about funky sets, there is the cool bit at the end*.
I would never have thought this play could come as close in my estimation as to the book, but it has. There’s a reason why it’s won so many Oliviers. You need to see it to truly understand its magnificence.
*not wanting to spoil anything, but make sure you STAY TILL THE END. I had friends that were eager to not miss their trains etc. and missed out, and they were annoyed.
- Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre (hazelrowland.wordpress.com)
- The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time, Apollo Theatre, London (londontheatreprices.wordpress.com)
- the curious incident of the dog in the night-time (bookloversattic.wordpress.com)
- An Evening With Christopher: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (totherailway.wordpress.com)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Review (itsthelitchick.wordpress.com)