As soon as I heard that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was touring, I bought tickets to see it at the Lowry Theatre. Being a winner of seven Olivier Awards and based on the best-selling book by Mark Haddon, it was a must see for me!
Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins), a teenage boy on the autistic spectrum, is mistakenly accused of killing his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, who has been stabbed with a garden fork. When his name is cleared, Christopher sets out on a detective mission to investigate the killing of Wellington. Alongside this, the play also explores Christopher’s relationship with his father, Ed (Stuart Laing) and school mentor, Siobhan (Geraldine Alexander).
Haddon states that the book “is not a book about Asperger’s….if anything it’s a novel about being different, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way”. Simon Stephens‘ play sticks to the author’s intentions like glue and wonderfully transports us into Christopher’s world and enables us to see things through his eyes. It invites us to share his dreams and reveals the difficulties of everyday life for somebody with the disability, and also the impact that this has on their families.
The best thing about the play is Bunnie Christie‘s amazing production design. The stage originally looks like a cube, with the appearance of a mathematical graph, but during the show, stunning visual effects are impressively projected onto the back wall, sides and floor of the stage. This is particularly effective when the location switches to London; and also when Christopher draws on the floor and his drawings are reflected, as graphics, on the back wall. Other than the excellent visual effects, the gorgeous lighting design takes your breath away. Bright colours bring a child-like quality to the lighting, yet these lights also reflect Christopher’s mood when he has a breakdown, by turning into a vivid red.
There are instances of strobe lighting, which normally I find nauseating, but in Curious Incident, it represents Christopher’s confusion, or occasionally when he is in peril. The highlight of the lighting design for me is the creation of a London Underground tube train by the use of lights and sound. The sound design is also faultless. Whenever Christopher has a breakdown, loud, Daft Punk-esque electronic dance music is played, to which the actors movements are choreographed. This trance music unsettles the audience, transporting us into Christopher’s shoes and reflects how confusing his episodes must be. The sound effects of the London Underground and King Cross station are perfect at creating the bustling environment into which Christopher finds himself catapulted.
Simon Stephens‘ adaptation of the story onto the stage is excellent. The humour, which is used in the book to offset the serious aspects of the plot, is kept in the script. Curious Incident is surprisingly humorous, for example when Christopher is carrying out his door to door investigations, looking for information on who killed Wellington. The best aspect that Stephens maintained from the book is that Christopher tells the story through the book he is writing. Being told from his perspective, this retains the innocence of Mark Haddon’s book and stops the play being entirely about autism. Instead the play is about Christopher Boone, who just happens to be different from those around him. The struggling father-son relationship is also adapted beautifully onto the stage, giving the play a touching, emotional aspect.
The story is sometimes told through expressionist dance, particularly seen when Christopher has a breakdown or in his dream sequences. The ensemble cast create most of the scenery needed through expressionism, creating everything from doors to a space rocket, when Christopher dreams of being an astronaut. This is choreographed perfectly and is a joy to watch! In addition to the ensemble are fantastic props, from a real working train set (complete with Big Ben and London Eye) to real animals (Christopher’s pet rat, Toby).
The performance from Jenkins is a master-class! He manages to carry the weight of being the lead actor effortlessly and encompasses the role perfectly. His mannerisms are superb, such as rubbing his temples with the ball of his hand to suggest frustration, his body language when talking to strangers and speaking in broken sentences, pausing in unconventional places in his dialogue and stressing odd words. Jenkins is perfect as Christopher and really brought the character to life.
I was equally impressed by Stuart Laing as Ed, his father. His scenes with Christopher are heart-wrenching and beautifully portrayed, especially when he finds Christopher after a seizure and spends most of that scene crying. It is heart-breaking to watch, and brings a vulnerability to a character who can be interpreted as unsympathetic. Laing’s performance encourages the audience to identify with Ed, asking themselves how they would cope in his position. I will be keeping my eyes open for any future performances by these two superb actors.
The night I attended was the first Captioned Performance I have ever been to. It is quite an experience to see subtitles on the side of the stage. It is nice to see that people with a hearing impairment would also be able to enjoy the show. It also helped me understand what was being said when the inconsiderate teenagers, sat behind me, were crunching on a bags of Doritos and popcorn. From an acting perspective, it must be terrifying to perform alongside captions because you can’t get your lines wrong.
Overall, Curious Incident was a superb, thrilling and moving adaptation of a fantastic book. It has been transformed into a magnificent stage show, that hits all emotions. It made me laugh and broke my heart.
I recommend everyone to watch this in London’s West End or to catch it while it is touring. Alongside War Horse, it is the best technical production I have seen. Bunnie Christie’s stage design, is simply stunning.