The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Gielgud Theatre, London
June 24, 2014 – May 23, 2015
Page to stage productions are often fraught with danger and the apprehensive pre-show talk at “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” certainly reflected this, as audience members shared concern of how Mark Hadden’s critically acclaimed novel would translate. Unusually perhaps, however, this is a stage show that remains very true to its origins as the National Theatre production captures the major events of the story with minimal alteration.
The novel is narrated in first-person by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who sees everything that other people miss. Although Christopher’s condition is not explicitly stated, both the novel itself and the production’s program refer to Asperger syndrome. Initially, it is strange to hear the stage story narrated by Christopher’s mentor, Siobhan, however, ultimately, she makes a success of letting the audience inside the mind of a young man who likes maths and space, the colour red and his pet rat Tony, and hates yellow and brown and being touched.
It is not only Christopher’s idiosyncrasies that are amusing, but his literal interpretation of directions and bewilderment at metaphoric proverbs and everyday sayings. On stage, this has the potential to alienate audience members, perhaps reticent to laugh at the expense of a young AS suffered who simply doesn’t compute emotion or empathy, however, this is a production that shows compassion for its characters and no-one is demonised.
At its core, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a character study. Appropriately wearing his red ‘Pythagoras rules’ t-shirt, Graham Butler is every part Christopher, delivering an phenomenal, absorbing performance, nuanced down to every aspect of his facial expressions, body language and avoidance of eye-contact and more than worthy of the standing ovation bestowed upon him.
The other of the show’s standouts is its stunning design and extraordinary, imaginative Tron-like set, which, despite its initial starkness, is put to expert use to transport audience members into Christopher’s outer space dreams and numerical mindscape. Indeed, it features a most astonishing AV display, often resulting in audible gasps of awe as Act Two, in particular, provides insight into the chaotic overwhelm of new and different stimuli from Christopher’s perspective.
In addition to this, there is the added touch of Christopher’s designated special Prime Number seats within the stalls, in keeping with the novel’s unique chapter numbering and Christopher’s preference for order and logic (“prime numbers are like life; they are very logical”).
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is theatre at its very best, deservedly winning seven Olivier Awards in 2013, including Best New Play. From the simple story of Christopher’s written account of what happened on the night he discovers a neighbour’s dog, dead, just a few minutes after midnight, it becomes so much more as it follows his investigation into the crime and shares the resulting journey of discovery as he ventures beyond the end of his road for the first time.
As an interpretation of an existing text, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is brilliantly realised and possibly one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen. However, its appeal lies beyond just those who have familiarity with the novel and it is well worth staying in your seat (prime-numbered or otherwise) past the curtain call for the theatre equivalent of a Marvel movie post-credits scene. When you eventually leave the theatre and walk into the streets buzzing with the pure joy of the experience, you will know you’ve seen a five star show and like the curious cat, satisfaction will have you wanting to come back.