Directed by Marianne Elliot, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, is based on the bestselling novel by Mark Haddon and has been adapted by Simon Stephens.
I remember when the book came out, it blew me away. I don’t think I realised it featured a protagonist who we might now consider neurodiverse until about halfway through. It’s a detective story told from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy, Christopher Boone, who sees the world in a different way to many people. He’s a bit of a mathematical genius and has trouble interpreting metaphors and social situations. When a dog is killed in his local area, he sets about trying to solve the mystery.
This intensity and sense of overwhelm runs all the way through the play and allows me to understand the rationale for adapting the book into this art form.
The book never explicitly references autism, but there is mention of Christopher having Asperger’s Syndrome. When I get to the teenager-teeming Troubadour theatre at Wembley for the 20-year anniversary of the stage show adaptation, I can’t remember much else about the story aside from how much I enjoyed it, and I don’t seek any further reminders so I can experience the performance with eyes as fresh as possible.
The tour of the play is supported by Access All Areas, an organisation making award-winning disruptive theatre by learning disabled and autistic artists. I’m encouraged by the amount of school trips that appear to be here; perhaps it’s a sign that the world has, or young people at least, have moved on so much more than i thought on inclusion of this kind in the last couple of decades. Still, it feels off to be drinking a glass of wine at a theatre bar with so many kids in school uniform about.
The performance starts abruptly and loudly with the titular scene in front of me, arranged in what I would describe as a 3D box of reverse graph paper – space-dark floor, walls and ceiling with Tron-like orderly lines all over that feels altogether unsettling and chaotic. The combination of light, space and sound puts me in the sort of existential crisis I find myself in when contemplating the vastness of the universe, which feels 100 per cent right for what I imagine it feels like for Christopher Boone, played by the excellent Connor Curren.
In fact, this intensity and sense of overwhelm runs all the way through the play and allows me to understand the rationale for adapting the book into this art form. I recognise a few actors; Rebecca Root was stunning as both the narrator of Christopher’s diary and as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher. Tom Peters puts in solid work as Ed, Christopher’s dad. But most interesting to me is the diversity of the cast – set around Swindon, as a black West Country woman it was like the sound of home to both hear familiar accents and see the diverse talent attached to them, such as Joanne Henry, David Montieth and Kofi De-Graft-Jordan.
Most interesting to me is the diversity of the cast – set around Swindon, as a black West Country woman it was like the sound of home to both hear familiar accents and see the diverse talent attached to them
I’m also riveted by Sophie Stone’s performance – not because she is deaf, but because she truly delivers from the heart. There are some notable ensemble performances from rising star Marc Benga, interpreting some of the wonderful parkour-style movement from Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly. There’s even some live animal action/choreography – a brave and risky move that for the most part pays off.
Like the book, there’s a lot of reference to mathematics, which is wonderful and fun even if you are not a fan of maths (I am). But there are also moments of emotion, including a tender scene in the second half that doesn’t quite move me to tears but is effective, nonetheless.
I very much enjoyed this well-cast, charming and authentic adaptation – the parts that worked best emphasised the intensity and overwhelm of the world someone like Christopher inhabits; but this is almost so well done that it outshines the detective part of the narrative. It’s a story that by the end feels a little one-dimensional- despite the excellent 3D staging.