We recently paid a visit to the National Theatre's production of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre. Here are our top 5 reasons to see this remarkable piece of theatre:-
1) The test of time
To withstand the test of time in London’s West End is no mean feat – particularly during a recession.
As with The National Theatre’s runaway success War Horse, the enduring popularity of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time came to many as a surprise; not because it wasn’t worthy of sell-out shows and five star reviews – far from it – but simply because in 2012, when Curious Incident premiered at the Cottesloe Theatre, times were particularly tough for everyone.
Since then Curious Incident has been unstoppable, receiving seven Olivier Awards and taking home Best New Play at the 2013 Whatsonstage Awards. Even when part of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during a performance in December 2013, Curious Incident dusted itself off and re-opened six months later at the Gielgud Theatre, where it has continued to play to packed houses.
It’s made a splash across the pond too. The Broadway production debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in October 2014 and, in 2015, Curious Incident won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Play, the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play, and five Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Of course, awards and popularity may not be reason enough to sway your decision, but for any curious consumer of theatre, it’s a good place start.
2) The noblest of narratives
Based on the best-selling, award-winning novel by Mark Haddon and adapted for stage by Simon Stephens, the story of Christopher Boone – who simply describes himself as “someone who has Behavioural Problems” – is one of great pertinence and value.
Since Haddon’s novel was published in 2003, Asperger Syndrome and other special educational needs and disabilities (although let’s not waste time with labels) have received deeper exploration and fairer representation in the media. I’d like to believe we’ve come a long way – even since the play opened in 2012 – in unravelling some of the many misconceptions, myths and stigmas, and that in general there’s a better understanding and an improved attitude towards learning disabilities.
For this reason Christopher’s advanced mathematical ability, his creative imagination or his avoidance of strangers and physical contact, may not come as a huge surprise to some 2016 audience members. That’s not to say the play’s value has diminished, or that ignorance no longer exists. Sadly, we’ve still got a long way to go, and there’ll always be something to be gained from telling Christopher Boone’s story.
In actuality, Curious Incident isn’t really about Christopher or his Asperges; it’s about his mother Judy and his father Ed, Swindon, Sherlock Holmes, reading and railways. Extending beyond Christopher’s combination of eccentricities, the rich narrative explores themes of divorce, death, intimacy, family and community; its characters, each with their idiosyncrasies and difficulties, making their catastrophic errors, demonstrate human frailty and that which makes every one of us perfectly unique.
3) The magic of simplicity
It’s true that since the opening of Curious Incident ambitious theatre-makers have tirelessly scaled the parameters of what is and what is not possible on-stage. Each bigger and bolder than the last, companies such as PunchDrunk, Headlong and 1927 have embraced technology and art to stun unsuspecting audiences. But Curious Incident, while no longer unique in it’s incorporation of video projection, magical lighting and inventive movement direction, still stands apart from the competition. And that’s down to simplicity, the unquestionable ability of ten actors playing multiple parts and, conversely, a lack of set that blows the story wide open.
4) Two extremes and everything in-between
There are few scenes in British theatre history as tense as Christopher’s impromptu adventure into the London underground. In a desperate attempt to solve the mystery of the letters he unearthed in his father’s room, Christopher runs away from his home in Swindon in search of Kensal Rise. In doing so, he unknowingly puts himself in great danger and at the mercy of London’s typically unhelpful commuters.
Likewise, rarely have there been theatrical moments as euphoric and peaceful as when Christopher imagines journeying into space, or when he finds safety in mathematics. His reverie is brought to life by the seamless physical work of the ensemble cast and the illustrations projected onto the white grid that comes to represent the inner workings of Christopher’s mind.
Curious Incident therefore asks a lot of its audience members; expect to experience the full spectrum of emotions and to never for one moment feel complacent or, worse still, bored.
5) … and a surprise worth waiting for
Unwilling to spoil it you, all I’ll say about reason number 5 is this: if you’re not usually a fan of animals on stage – as I frequently claim not to be – be prepared to reconsider. Far from a cheap, comical ploy, this particular four-legged cameo makes for a very welcome addition to an already beautifully evocative play.
NB: No animals were harmed in the making of this production.