Tag Archives: Simon Stephens

Curiosity kills the Dog

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 4th July, 2017

 

It’s my third time seeing this marvellous production and I can reveal the piece loses none of its power to charm or to move even if you know what’s coming.  The death of a neighbour’s dog sets 15-year-old Christopher on a quest to find out whodunit.  He’s a ‘special’ boy, with Asperger’s, and we view events and the world at large, through his eyes.  To this end, the set is a box, a blackboard box with a grid that lights up like the chalk lines Christopher draws on the floor.  The walls are also versatile, containing doors, drawers and cupboards for handy prop-grabbing.  Cast members become pieces of furniture and white blocks do the rest.  It’s a mish-mash of physical and narrative theatre and it works like a dream.  Simon Stephens’s masterly adaptation does full justice to Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel.

Scott Reid is marvellous as the intrepid Christopher, whose literal take on things provides humour for us and confusion for him.  It’s not just the characterisation, which convinces utterly, but it’s also the movement skills that impress.  He’s the focal point of the production but around him the rest of the cast is equally good.

Lucianne McEvoy is Christopher’s mentor and our narrator, Siobhan, providing clarity to the action, reading from Christopher’s account while scenes are flashily reconstructed.  David Michaels is Ed, Christopher’s long-suffering Dad – love pours out of him in various forms: anger and frustration being chief among them!  Mum Judy (Emma Beattie) takes a pragmatic approach – emotions run high and have to be contained for Christopher’s peace of mind.  Beattie and Michaels both bring emotional depth that Christopher cannot – and we glimpse what it must be like to care for someone like Christopher as well as gaining awareness and understanding of the way he is.

Marianne Elliott’s flashy and clever production is rooted in humanity – we see how Christopher is treated by figures in authority and unsuspecting members of the public – and while there is humour in these exchanges it is never at Christopher’s expense.  And we begin to think Christopher has a point, that people should say what they mean instead of dressing their words in euphemism and metaphor.   Elliott’s use of non-naturalistic techniques serves to emphasise Christopher’s humanness.   Beneath the unconventional methods of address, there is someone here with whom we can empathise.  The show, therefore, is a metaphor for the character!

Endlessly inventive, superbly executed, funny, gripping and touching, this is a play to savour and a production to enjoy.  Christopher’s journey (the mystery is solved by the interval) is more than his wish to solve the crime, and we root for him as he tries to understand life and pass his A-Level in Maths.  It’s a crowd-pleaser, accessible and enlightening, showing that just as there are other ways of perceiving the world, there are other forms of theatre.

How gratifying to see the Hippodrome packed out for something other than a musical!

Scott Reid (Christopher Boone) and ensemble, NT Curious Incident Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg-min

Scott Reid and ensemble (Photo: BrinkhoffMogenburg-min)

 


Boy-Curious

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.

curious_new_banner with title2


Doggone It!

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME
National Theatre Live Broadcast, Thursday 6th September, 2012

Simon Stephens’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s much-loved bestseller is nigh on perfect. Translating what is largely an ‘internal’ book to the stage, the production is deceptively simple. There is no set to speak of. Actors bring on and take off nondescript white boxes to serve as tables, chairs, seats on a train, a walk down an escalator… Lighting defines sharp squares and oblongs for different rooms, different houses. Performed in the round, the design for this show is all about the floor. Marked up with a grid (that reminded me of Star Trek’s holodeck!) the stage is riddled with LEDs that both lead and trail the protagonist on his journey. Projections help to convey the impression of a tube station, a train ride and so on. It is all both complex and economical.

But of course it is the actors who are the keys to open up this story of a teenager on the Asberger’s syndrome trying to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbour’s dog with a garden fork. As 15 year old Christopher, Luke Treadaway is both magnetic and a little disturbing. This is no white-washed sentimental portrayal. We understand his parents’ frustrations and admire his mentor’s patience, all the while caring for this boy. His direct and literal approach to life amuses; his violent rejection of physical contact touches us. It is a remarkable portrayal.

As mentor Siobhan, Niamh Cusack also doubles as a narrator. It is revealed as the action unfolds that we are watching a dramatisation – the whole play is a play-within-a-play, cranking up the cleverness level. Along the way we meet a host of characters, walk-ons and cameos, and it is particularly delightful to see Una Stubbs, bright-eyed as ever, as elderly neighbour Mrs Alexander.

Marianne Elliott’s direction keeps a complex set-up clear, working the cast like cogs in a super-efficient machine. Movement sequences are particularly effective, stylised in such a way to be evocative and supportive of the narrative.

Now, some people are rather snobbish about the whole enterprise of live broadcasts to cinema screens. Everyone should go to London and see the shows live, they say. Well, I’m sure everyone would if they could (as if the scramble for National Theatre tickets isn’t bad enough already). But for occasions when that is not possible, a trip to the local cinema is a more-than-adequate substitute. With this particular production it could be argued that the cinema audience actually gains something – as well as affording us close-ups of the actors, we also get bird’s-eye views of the stage, making the projections and floor work perfectly clear. What you lose on the swings of being present for the live experience, you gain on the roundabouts of multi-angle cameras.