The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, National Theatre | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, National Theatre
The hurt and humour of this adaptation will out-run and outlast any Olympic fervour
When Complicite conceived their beautiful A Disappearing Number they gave maths energy, drama, and above all watchability, but they never quite brought the heart. In Simon Stephens’s new adaptation, A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has it in abundance (as well of course as a dead bee, a live rat, three beer cans and 20-odd metres of model train-track). When you can persuade an audience to stay behind after the curtain-call for a mini maths tutorial you’re doing something right; when you can reduce them to tears with it you’re doing something miraculous.
Christopher (Luke Treadaway) is 15 years, three months and two days old. His “behavioural problems” (author Mark Haddon regrets using the term Asperger Syndrome originally) keep him at a special school and at a distance from all but his immediate family. But when the neighbour’s dog is found murdered with a garden fork Christopher must push past his fears and investigate the crime. In so doing he uncovers secrets rather closer to home, travels to London, and sits his maths A-level.
Elliott’s chief victory here is her balancing of the polyphony of theatre with a production that has a very definite point of view
It’s a simple enough story, but in Mark Haddon’s vivid treatment became something of a cult novel. Like The Great Gatsby though it’s a book that’s all in the telling; Christopher’s assured, relentless logic colours everything, and to lose it would risk losing the story’s spirit. Rather than do a Gatz, Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott offer a much more directly theatrical experience, integrating Finn Ross’s video design and Ian Dickinson’s sound with physical theatre, music and straight narrative.
Christopher’s voice is preserved both in his own mouth but also (for the book’s monologue) in that of Siobhan (a glowing Niamh Cusack) his teaching assistant. Faithful to his source, Stephens’s sole innovation is a theatrical meta-frame that allows Christopher to step out of proceedings and direct or correct his ‘cast’ in this school-play adaptation of his own book. It’s a device that rings true (and often funny), particularly when we see the obsessive boy correcting the misremembered actions of others. Elliott’s chief victory here is her balancing of the polyphony of theatre with a production that has a very definite point of view. We see nothing, experience nothing except as Christopher himself sees it.
Bunny Christie’s ingenious design sets up the endlessly flexible Cottesloe in the round. Seats rise football-stadium-like around a central rectangle of graph paper – the geometric, quantifiable units into which Christopher must translate his bafflingly fluid life experiences. Everything on set is hard-edged and non-specific, all human detail stripped away from it. Houses emerge in Brecht-lite numbered squares, and kitchen tables are built out of boxes. All of which casts the few moments of magic in striking relief. A ceiling full of stars offers the simplest, but a train-set and a quivering cardboard box will defeat the sternest of viewers.
But for all the artistry of the production its greatest skill is in directing our focus to the cast. Treadaway (pictured above) dominates, never leaving the stage. His tense, twitching logic informs everything from the over-precise speech to the rigid body shapes, creating a boy who demands our sympathy even as we realise he wouldn’t understand or thank us for it. The violent clarity of Haddon’s prose finds natural expression in Treadway’s physicality, offset by the soft metaphors and kindness of Cusack’s Siobhan and Christopher’s mother (Nicola Walker).
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
New play about English nationalism is timely, but undermined by its musical form
Designer rises to challenge of spectacular new venue
Howard Brenton’s First World War play is interesting, but not always convincing
An underwhelming production, but Maxine Peake is gripping as the young Prince
Enda Walsh's unsettling comedy triumphs at the Lyttelton
Powerful revival of Philip Ridley’s 1994 shock-fest proves that it’s a contemporary classic
Fearless foursome spoofs the poker-faced and the overblown in magnificent Menier transfer
Let the right Mormons in: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips
Pigott-Smith is the jewel in the crown of a provocative political comedy
Revived one-man show serves up a smorgasbord of comic treats
Sam Shepard’s tale of sibling rivalry and the sad underbelly of the American Dream prevails against almost too much mayhem
Great war story: on adapting Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' for the theatre