The curious and long title is of a spell-binding production of Simon Stephens’ ingenious adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel of the same title, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. It is back on stage in the West End after a sell-out run that ended with the roof at Apollo theatre, literally, coming down.
The incident that provides the pretext to the superb storyline lies in the body of a dead dog, found by our protagonist, Christopher Boone, after midnight, speared by a garden fork. Christopher, a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, is determined to find out who murdered the dog. His experiences are presented as a school play, narrated by his teacher, Siobhan (Sarah Woodward).
The pretext to the story leads to an emotional and social maze through which Christopher, superbly performed by Graham Butler, uncovers some uncomfortable truths about his parents and the way adults lie to children and to each other.
Christopher’s disorder means that he has no comprehension of metaphors, irony, humour or any other colourful nuances of the language. You say what you mean and mean what you say. He also cannot bear to be touched. These two elements provide an unflinching reflection of the society we live in, where the common spoken language is not as coherent as we may like to think.
Bunny Christie’s design is engaging and utterly brilliant. The stage is dominated by a versatile grid where lights and designs appear and disappear to illustrate the relevant dramatic scenes. The projected images range from cascading mathematical formulae and numbers that run through Christopher’s head to rail tracks and fast moving trains depicting his terrifying experiences aboard a train from Swindon, where he lived with his father, to London, to find his mother. The journey through London, on the underground, provides an almost unbearable suspense: Christopher jumps down onto the tube tracks to try retrieving his pet rat Toby. The ultimate rail tracks he returns to are those for his toy train which eventually puffs triumphantly round the stage.
The supporting cast varies from muted to spirit performances. A special mention must be made of Vivienne Acheampong and Gay Soper, who gave richly amusing performances.
Nicholas Tennant, as Christopher‘s father, however, comes across as somewhat disengaged.
This play, which speaks to all age groups, is not only a stage triumph in this production, but Haddon’s novel, has rightly earned a place on the national school curriculum.