Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I sometimes think that the most effective plays invite an audience to step into the mind and heart of someone whose point of view the have never previously had cause to consider; to spend an evening looking through someone else’s eyes. This is what The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel by Simon Stephens, achieves. 

Masterfully directed by Marianne Elliott, Curious Incident sees the world through the eyes of Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old boy who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, confused by people but brilliant at mathematics, and determined to set the world to right when he finds his neighbor’s dog stabbed with a rake in her garden. Graham Butler presents Christopher with complete, guileless sincerity and impressive physical control. Elliott and her designers create a technological dreamscape: a black box of a set intersected with a light-up grid, projections of mathematical equations, numbers, drawings, and noises, roiling ensemble movement by Frantic Assembly’s Vicki Manderson– and Christopher at the center of it all, whose alternating coldness and intensity, when cast against this depiction of his elaborate and confusing perspective on the world, become perfectly understandable. Christopher sees his journey as an epic quest or a Sherlock Holmes adventure, and the play itself never mocks him by reminding us to think of it otherwise. 

The action is complemented by narration ‘written’ by Christopher and read out by one of his teachers, Miss Siobhan (Sarah Woodward). From her, as well as Christopher’s neighbors and parents, we get glimpses of the workings of the world outside Christopher’s mind. We see or overhear only the conversations and exchanges that Christopher does, but often we receive information from them that he does not. It’s a really remarkable and effective layering of Christopher’s subjectivity and our position as outsiders looking into his world; we are never fully pushed away from our alliance with him, but we simultaneously can fill in richer details about the ‘real’ world that all rush to the forefront in the beautiful final moments of the play. 

Curious Incident takes full advantage of the opportunities presented by live theatre (at one point literally declaring its intention of doing so) and revels in the limitations. I never thought that this might make a good movie (a far-too-rare feeling with new plays, in my opinion) and more significantly for an adaptation, I never found myself wondering about the novel. Not that I’m not curious to read it now, as I’m sure it’s very good, but the storytelling and even the narration never left me picturing words on the page, or wondering how a scene would have been illustrated with prose. The story felt not like prose slightly twisted to fit onstage, but essentially theatrical. 

The success of such an unusual story in both London and New York probably speaks for itself, at this point. But it’s always exciting to experience such a moving, well-crafted evening at the theatre. 

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