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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Drama based on the award-winning novel by Mark Haddon
Emma Beattie (Judy), Scott Reid (Christopher Boone) in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time UK Tour production. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg

May 23, 2017
This production truly delivers

Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone is brilliant at Maths, and he never tells lies, but the challenges of being a teenager are magnified by what he calls his "behavioural difficulties" that make him interpret life very differently. His world is restricted to the road where he lives with his dad. To add to his problems, he is suspected of murdering his neighbour's dog.

Mark Haddon's book is so well loved that interpreting it as a play required something very special. With this production that is exactly what you get. From director Marian Elliott's brilliant staging, with extraordinary effects, to the sensitive interpretation of each character by the cast, this production truly delivers.

Scott Reid's performance as Christopher is stupendous. He is centre-stage for the full two hours and is totally believable as the lead. Christopher hates being touched and his complete lack of social skills allow for some hilarious moments. In the first half Christopher decides to become detective and discover who killed Wellington the dog.His relationship with Siobhan, his teacher, (played wonderfully sensitively by Lucianne McEvoy) appears to be the only stable thing in his life, after his trust in his father is destroyed when he reveals the truth about the fate of Christopher's mother.

The second half is all about his determination to find answers. To do this requires enormous courage and ingenuity as Christopher is terrified of loud noises, hates crowds and has never travelled beyond his own Swindon street. The stage management of the underground scene is extraordinary and the terrifying sensory overload gives an insight into what goes on in Christopher's head. For the boy who never lies this betrayal by his father leads to some heart-wrenchingly emotional scenes. David Michaels and Emma Beattie, who play Christopher's parents Ed and Judy, are achingly convincing as they struggle to cope with not just his behaviour, but also the effect their tangled relationship has on their son. Particularly heart-wrenching are Ed's efforts to regain his son's trust.

Watching this play is by turns exhausting and very moving but it is also extremely funny. It is not about labelling people, but about hope and courage and never giving up. The play has been described as 'un-missable' and it truly earns that tag. One little tip – don't be in too much of a hurry to leave at the end!

February 8, 2017
We feel truly lucky to see Christopher's world come to life

Like perhaps everyone else in the UK, I remember reading Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time soon after it was published in 2003. I'd never read anything quite like it and don't think I have since. The stage adaptation debuted at the National Theatre in 2012 and this week reaches Aylesbury's wonderfully modern Waterside Theatre as part of its second national tour.

The story centres on Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, who comes under suspicion for the murder of Wellington, his neighbour's dog. He takes it upon himself to investigate the death, with a brain perfectly built to solve complex mathematical problems but less well-suited to understanding the intricacies of day-to-day life.

The crime itself is solved long before the interval and this leads to the unfolding of bleak secrets held by Christopher's parents. David Michaels is particularly compelling in the role of the father, doing his best to love and understand his son whilst dealing with issues of his own.

Scott Reid shines as Christopher, expressing the character's joy, rage and everything in between in a truly physical performance which is both exhilarating and exhausting to watch. Elements of interpretive dance are introduced as the play progresses and lead to some of the evening's most moving moments.

The staging of the production is, at first glimpse, both simple and spectacular. The set comes to life as the play progresses, with Christopher building, drawing and calculating using all three walls and the floor. Hidden cupboards and boxes with multiple uses add to the intrigue and there are some genuine surprises along the way.

Adapting a novel into a stage play is surely never easy, particularly when so much of the source material takes place in a character's head. However, the book's delicacy and lightness-of-touch have been beautifully retained and as an audience we feel truly lucky to see Christopher's world come to life.

This play is not sheer escapism and probably shouldn't be treated as such; there's a genuine depth to the characters and storytelling throughout. Yet it's also tremendous fun and very much suitable, indeed recommended, for older children.

Finally, take a tip from me – arrive on time (the show explodes into life without preamble) and stick around after the curtain call for a wonderful little epilogue.

July 14, 2015

Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, states in the play’s brochure that he has “always regretted that the phrase ‘Asperger's Syndrome’ appeared on the cover of Curious Incident when it was first published”. This is a bold and honest admission. In 2003, when the book started to fly off the shelves, it may have been a convenient marketing tie-in. Haddon, however, never intended to have his main character, Christopher, ‘labelled’ as having Asperger's, and the phrase does not appear in his original text, nor is it spoken in the play. Haddon defends Christopher’s own self-declaration that he is “someone who has Behavioural Problems”. By doing so, he ensures the reader/audience does not become distracted and bogged down in diversionary assessments: he’s not like my brother who has Asperger's, my cousin with Asperger's wouldn’t say that, my Asperger son is not a maths genius, and so on. Instead, we are witnessing a family saga unfold where the challenges of raising a child are sometimes avoided, sometimes met, and often times found wanting. Unconditional love, coupled with the relentless quest for understanding, underpin the strength and enduring poignancy of this modern classic.

Christopher pens the story of the curious incident involving a dog in a book he decides to write. One dark and stormy night, while out walking, he finds a dog in his neighbour’s front garden. The dog is dead, the fatal result of a garden fork thrust into it. When confronted by the dog’s owner, Christopher, who never lies, said that he had not killed the dog. The neighbour, Mrs Spears, did not kill the dog. Then who did? Thus begins a mystery that Christopher is determined to solve. Those who have read the book will be rewarded by the clever way in which both action and narration co-exist to convey details of his sleuthing. Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher at his ‘special school’, encourages him to write about his ‘detecting’ and his narration becomes a play-within-a-play. The performances were faultless and all of the main actors and members of the ensemble are to be commended. Special attention must be given to Joshua Jenkins, whose nimble athleticism enables him to convey Christopher’s teenage physical awkwardness and social vulnerability, alongside his continually fierce assertion that he is not stupid. Even though Christopher cannot bear to be touched, when he sets off on his first train ride from Swindon to London on his own, the panic, horror, claustrophobia, and sensory overload of the experience are conveyed in such as way that we are able to recall similar incidents, and the hair on the arm stands straight up at the memories.

In times of stress, Christopher calms himself through the reassuring certainness of mathematics. In his unpredictable world, mathematics allows Christopher to relate to others though a language that he understands. And he can be playful in this language. After securing the A* mark on his A-level exam, taken at a younger age than is the norm, he begins to explain how he answered his favourite exam question. Siobhan encourages him to postpone his account until after the play (we are watching) has finished. Breaking down the ‘fourth wall’ elicits a big laugh and when the time comes, Christopher’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his expressed intention to go to University to get a First Class Honours Degree and become a scientist is entirely believable.

The stage setting is worth noting as it plays a key role in helping us to understand not only physical locations but Christopher’s internal thoughts as well. Essentially a black box, its projections, minimal props and evocative use of sound and light successfully transport both the actors and the audience around the various landscapes: London, Christopher’s school, his home, his neighbourhood; and provides a peek into Christopher’s beautiful mathematical panorama.

We all know a Christopher. There is a bit of Christopher in all of us. This extraordinary play will make for an extraordinary evening. Don’t miss it.

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