The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play many of my friends have talked about, but I’d never actually seen.
I’d seen it advertised on visits to London, and knew actress Pearl Mackie had appeared in it before joining Peter Capaldi in his final season in Doctor Who. Aside from the unconventional title, I vaguely knew that it featured a lead character who is autistic, and there was a dead dog involved somewhere down the line.
As I discovered, the canine has become kaput from the word go – we see an obviously fake deceased dog on stage, with a pitchfork in it – and its outline upon the stage.
The first thing that struck me, once the lights went up, was the set design – the three walls, plus the floor, all have electronic lights within them, allowing for areas of the stage to be sectioned off, to bring us the illusion of different rooms and different houses.
It’s no surprise, therefore, to learn that this staging had helped the National Theatre production become an Olivier and Tony Award-winner. Director Marianne Elliott’s ‘life-affirming and unmissable’ production brings Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel to life on stage.
We meet Christopher, who is 15-years-old, and is found standing beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog, Wellington. As he is questioned by a police officer, we quickly realise that Christopher is on the autistic spectrum, as his brain tries to rationalise everything as hard facts, and he becomes a suspect after the officer touches him innocently (Christopher does not like human contact).
After his dad visits the police station and takes Christopher home, the teenager starts to record each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington. However, he distrusts strangers, so interviewing his neighbours causes him problems as he tries to relate to them, being unable to comprehend the notion of lying and being given false statements.
Christopher’s world is turned upside down when he learns from one neighbour that his mother, who he was told by his father Ed had died from a heart attack, is in fact alive and well in London, with Mr Shears, former co-owner of Wellington.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play of two halves, as the first details Christopher’s quest to find Wellington’s killer, and the second deals with the aftermath of learning his mother is still alive.
There’s so many wonderful touches in the staging, as Christopher slowly builds up a train set, and creates a London skyline on the other side of the stage, using hidden cupboards within the superb set, with lights showing us his path as he makes his way through the streets. Images and signage is also projected onto the set walls and floor throughout, making this a kinetic production, even when the cast are having still moments.
And while the cast are brilliant – more on them shortly – the stage crew, with lighting and sound teams, do a wonderful job at conveying the troubles Christopher has in relating to the world in which we live, through clever your of flashing lights and noise, providing a sensory overload to convey how difficult he finds it to process the world around him.
Connor Curren excels in the role of Christopher, capturing a wonderful child-like innocence, who is very much the master of his own world when he is in control of the elements, but struggles to cope in the wider world outwith what he knows. This is an actor going places – he elicits sympathy and understanding, and whilst we laugh WITH Christopher at the absurdities of the world in which we live, at no point do we laugh AT him.
The superb Rebecca Root plays his teacher, Siobhan, who reads Christopher’s work aloud and helps give us an insight into his world with a calm, authoritive presence. Her understanding and patience with Christopher was a joy to behold, being played with genuine compassion, and I can but hope that in the real world, there are plenty of real-life Siobhans out there in our schools. I’ve followed Rebecca’s work for the past few years and her versatility is outstanding.
Tom Peters and Sophie Stone play Ed and Judy, Christopher’s parents, both of whom elicited sympathy and understanding as they tried to relate to their son’s mannerisms. Peters captured the frustrations that many parents feel as they try to relate to an autistic child, and Stone – who I later learned was the first deaf student to win a place at the drama school RADA – was first class as sa parent wracked by guilt after leaving their son behind as she tried to start a new life.
The ensemble are a group of talented performers, having to move quickly on their feet with the assorted props, and capture an array of characters, all of whom were recognisable in real life.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play packed full of drama, emotion and laughs, and most definitely, it will make you think about how you relate to the world and people around you.
Oh, and make sure you stay until the very end, as you’ll have a puzzle answered by Christopher himself – it had been bothering me throughout!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow until Saturday, 9 April, with tickets available from £13, subject to a transaction fee of £2.85.
For ticket details visit HERE.