Curious Incident 2017 Tour
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REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time – The Mayflower 27 March 2017
By David Cradduck
When I first read Mark Haddon’s novel I was struck by how honest and sincere was the storytelling, told in the first person by the central character Christopher, the 15 year old from Swindon with ‘behavioural problems’ (his own words).
Christopher’s mental battle to understand the world around him is insignificant when compared to the challenge that the world faces in attempting to understand him in return. It demonstrates admirably just how inept we all are when dealing with people with mental illness – autism, Asperger Syndrome or otherwise.
The story takes you on a journey with Christopher as he abandons the comfort zone of his quiet cul-de-sac to go in search of his estranged mother, now living in London, and of the severe challenges he faces on the way.
He cannot stand to be touched, hustle and bustle frighten him, his logical, mathematical brain doesn’t understand social interaction and ‘normal’ emotion.
Equally, no-one understands him – with the exception of his teacher, Siobhan and his parents (who have troubles of their own). It seems to be by sheer luck that he reaches his destination at all. And yet this boy is a mathematical genius. He will achieve great things, given the chance.
Simon Stephen’s stage version, so masterfully created with a blend of astute direction by Marianne Elliott, sharp and deadly accurate acting and clever digital wizardry, does full justice to the book. The set is a deceptively simple cube, each of the visible sides and floor being a representation of graph paper.
This cube, apart from some equally ‘simple’ props, is empty. But within it we are transported from schoolroom to bedroom, garage, neighbours’ houses, streets, train stations and London tube stations. How? By a superb combination of lighting, precision projection, rhythmic sounds (even the score has a mathematical sequencing) and some impressive and very physical acting by an ensemble of ten actors, some playing up to seven different roles.
It takes a few minutes to adjust to the bombardment on the senses and to get into the groove of what exactly is going on. Then, just when you think you’ve got inside Christopher’s head, something new and unexpected happens. If this is what it is like for someone with Christopher’s condition, then it must be truly amazing, frightening and a constant challenge.
This play is truly different from anything I have ever seen and can only be described as revolutionary in its staging, in the same way that War Horse is – another National Theatre triumph. Now in its fourth year in London and second UK tour, Curious Incident is something of a legend, winner of seven 2013 Olivier Awards and five 2015 Tony Awards including ‘Best Play’ and the accolades come thick and fast. It is a set text for school children around the world, something that Mark Haddon says he is flattered and pleased about. The average age of the audience at our performance confirmed that this is theatre that appeals to all ages but especially the young.
Curious Incident is entertaining, of course, as any good story should be, and the technical stuff – projecting in digital, linear form on all three visible walls as well as the floor, does not detract from it. There are no less than 892 lighting dots, or pixel LEDs, and 234 sound cues and eight projectors producing 11.6 million pixels of projection. Whilst talking numbers, the steel used in the walls and floor weighs in at a hefty five tons requiring four articulated trucks to move it from venue to venue.
Yes, it takes a while to get into Christopher’s world represented in this way and because of the occasional sensory overload anyone with less than 20/20 hearing, like me, might miss some of the speech as it comes fast, furious and no radio mics are employed. Equally, if strobe lighting or flashing lights affect you, best to stay away.
The cast of ten are all expertly drilled and many swap between various roles – passengers on trains, policemen, teachers – so effectively it could be a much larger cast than it really is.
The stand outs are obvious: Scott Reid as Christopher never slips out of character once – notice that neither he nor anyone else actually holds hands in the curtain call – and whose rants, grunts and tender moments (one involving a cuddle with a very cute, and real, puppy) provide light and shade. The sheer physicality of the role, from being manhandled by the ensemble to represent an astronaut to walking, running and chalking huge smiley faces on the floor, must be exhausting. Christopher’s violent mood swings help to separate the scenes nicely. A brilliant performance.
Lucianne McEvoys’ depiction of Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, is sympathetic and touching. Emma Beattie and David Michaels as Judy and Ed, Christopher’s parents, are totally convincing and you find yourself wondering how parents of such troubled geniuses actually do keep their lives and marriages together. Presumably many don’t.
There are many comic moments throughout to give a little light relief, as well as a heady mix of all the other emotions. And, at the risk of dropping a spoiler, do stay until the very end after the play has ‘finished’ – as an encore, it is definitely unusual but as hugely entertaining as the whole piece.
Curious Incident runs until Saturday 1st April, then transfers – all five tons of it – to Nottingham and 16 other venues including Milton Keynes where the tour finishes in September.