THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th February, 2015
The National Theatre’s smash hit adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel hits the road, giving us provincial folk the chance to see the show on our home ground rather than face that pesky trip down to that London.
It is pleasing to see the Grand packed to the rafters for a show that isn’t a musical or a pantomime, and later, when this affecting piece of contemporary drama has worked its magic, to see the audience on its feet, raising a clamour for a non-naturalistic staging. We can have sophisticated tastes too out here in the regions.
Whatever it is, Curious Incident is accessible theatre. Bunny Christie’s set is a black box divided by white grid lines, like graph paper. The walls are interactive – what main character Christopher draws on the floor, appears on them. Christopher’s thoughts are also projected up there – the show takes place in Christopher’s mind, sort of, and Christopher has Asberger’s Syndrome…
At the performance I’m attending, Chris Ashby plays the lead, and knocks everyone’s socks off. We believe he is fifteen, immature in many ways for that age but also intelligent, with flashes of genius. His tendency to take everything literally gives rise to amusing exchanges, especially with authority figures, as Christopher sets out to solve the murder of his neighbour’s dog.
Supported – literally in some sequences – by a strong ensemble, Ashby entrances, endears and surprises. We see how Christopher sees the world but also how he is isolated by A.S. unable even to accept basic physical contact. It breaks your heart.
Members of the ensemble come to the fore to depict a range of characters. Roberta Kerr makes an impression as lonely old neighbour Mrs Alexander, while Clare Perkins shows her versatility as the head teacher and the foul-mouthed Mrs Shears. Stuart Laing and Gina Isaac are Christopher’s separated, long-suffering parents – and through them we see how parents of similar children strive and struggle to manage, and how their human failings make their efforts all the more superhuman.
Director Marianne Elliott combines movement sequences, physical theatre and narration to tell the story, at first through readings from Christopher’s own account and then – a bit meta – through a dramatised version. At one point, Christopher breaks the frame to instruct his mother to be angrier with her lover. But it is the production’s artificiality that makes the story hit home.
We are absorbed into Christopher’s world and way of seeing to the extent that the solving of an A-Level Maths question seems a reasonable and enjoyable form of encore.
At the end, when Christopher has solved the murder and proved he has some level of independence, he asks if it means he can do anything. He repeats the question a couple of times but the lights fade before he gets an answer. And you think, what does happen to children like this when they grow too old for the support network that is in place, when the parents are no longer around? And it breaks your heart again.