BECKY BAINBRIDGE reviews ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’.
Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel-turned-play made headlines last December, when the acclaimed production at The Apollo Theatre was brought to an abrupt halt with the collapse of the venue’s roof. Since then, the production has been re-homed next door at The Gielgud Theatre and was broadcasted live across cinemas worldwide by the National Theatre last month. Akin to the resilience of its teenage protagonist, Christopher Boone, the play’s reincarnation continues to draw in new and returning theatre-goers alike.
As we climbed the many stairs to take to our seats in the ‘Grand Slips’, I was bemoaning our last minute decision to buy tickets on the door, only two hours prior to the performance. Believing that the ‘restricted view’ would hamper my enjoyment of the performance when entering the auditorium, I was pleasantly surprised by the intimacy of The Gielgud Theatre. Even from the heights of the Grand Circle, the stage is never too distant nor the view obstructed significantly enough to detract from the dynamic performance. On occasion, there were moments when Christopher, played by the fantastically energetic actor Graham Butler, disappeared from view on the closest side of the stage. Considering the price however, it was a compromise I was more than happy to make.
Beginning by plunging the theatre into total darkness, staccato flashes of blinding light from centre stage enable the audience to glimpse a boyish figure bent over a dog impaled by a garden fork; the striking iconic front cover image of the novel. The play launches into the so-called ‘murder mystery’ of Wellington the dog, which fast becomes only one part of an elaborate puzzle. The audience, like readers of the book, are left to haphazardly assemble the pieces from the distorted fragments unearthed by a pseudo-detective suffering from ‘behavioural problems’.
The central character’s ‘high-functioning autism’ forms an unconventional mode for telling the story which requires narration throughout the first act by an omnipresent character Siobhan, Christopher’s mentor from school who reads from his diary. At first, the constant presence of a storyteller appears a little facile. Without first establishing this intimacy with the protagonist’s inner thoughts and a sense of distorted perception however, latter scenes without the verbal description would not evoke such an intensity of emotion.
The recurring visual representation of Christopher’s preoccupation with prime numbers through props and projection on all stage surfaces, as well as in the spoken repetition in the dialogue, enhances the audience’s feeling of being immersed in the character’s mind. Having silver covers on the prime numbered seats in the auditorium was also a delicate touch.
Perceiving the world through Christopher’s unique and innocent eyes is an astounding experience achieved by the masterful fusion of sound design, lighting and stage design (attributed to Ian Dickinson, Paule Constable and Bunny Christie respectively). This ‘coup de maître’ of combined elements is fully realised in a beautiful scene in which the tiles covering both stage floor and walls depict the drawings of Christopher’s childishly imagined travel through outer space. In a couple of bittersweet minutes, he fluidly flies and gambols through an unadulterated daydream with the aid of supporting cast members, who are all but forgotten, amidst the visual and auditory marvel.
Playwright Simon Stephens’ conceptualised play captivates the audience through the wondrous and engaging portrayal of an inimitable mind: you are in for a treat!
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