Review: The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time. Theatre Royal Nottingham

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Based on the novel by Mark Haddon

Adapted by Simon Stephens

Directed by Marianne Elliot

Nottingham Theatre Royal – Touring

Tuesday 8th February – Saturday 12th February

First published in 2003, Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a literary phenomenon. It subsequently won the Whitbread Book of the Year and has sold more than 5.5 million copies world-wide. If you are a fan of the book, then you will not be disappointed as playwright Simon Stephens sticks close to the source material in terms of both narrative and dialogue.

Our protagonist is teenager, Christopher Boone (Connor Curren), who tells us he is aged ‘fifteen years, three months and two days.’ His exactitude is integral to his character. He explains how much he likes machines, computers, and outer space. Christopher lives alone with his father Ed (Tom Peters); his mother Judy (Kate Kordel) having passed away two years previously. When Christopher discovers the corpse of his neighbour’s dog, stabbed by a garden fork, he decides to emulate the great Sherlock Holmes and start ‘detecting.’ So begins a journey for Christopher, both literal and metaphorical, as his investigations propel the narrative forward.

The play begins with an assault on our senses as booming electronic ‘House’ music pulses out into the auditorium and we see the grisly tableau of Christopher standing over Mrs Shears’ (Hannah Sinclair Robinson) dead dog. This is the moment you realise that you are in for a radically different production in which the design (Bunny Christie), lighting (Paule Constable), video (Finn Ross) and sound (Ian Dickinson) are paramount to the storytelling and our interpretation of events.

Christopher is a boy with exceptional talents; he is extremely gifted at maths, curious about the wider world around him, yet he rarely ventures beyond his suburban cul-de-sac. He finds non-verbal communication difficult and struggles with metaphor. ‘I always tell the truth,’ runs as a refrain. As lies and deceptions are gradually uncovered, Christopher’s own universe is upended.

Curren gives a nuanced performance as Christopher. The character’s idiosyncrasies never tip into caricature, and we root for him all the way, as we share both his joy and his pain. Rebecca Root as Siobhan also gives sterling support, both as a form of ‘Narrator’ and in the touching personal interactions with Christopher. This is the teacher figure we all wish we could have; warm, wise, and understanding. In addition, Peters and Kordel skilfully convey the contradictions, challenges and guilt involved in parenting.

Ultimately, it is the set design that is crucial to the success of this play. It is used in inventive and ingenious ways that will leave you open-mouthed in surprise and wonder. It would be easy to give too much away, but we are treated to a dazzling display of lighting, video projection and sound, including white noise, strobe lighting, and somewhat dissonant sound effects or music. Genuinely shocking moments are magnified threefold by this technical wizardry.

A monochrome background of square, akin to graph paper, looms large and hides drawers, cupboards, doors, and a plethora of props. Simple white boxes metamorphose into microwave ovens, desks, suitcases, or fish tanks. The audience marvels as digital letters and numbers ascend the backdrop or, in contrast, rain descends. We see semiotic codes in the form of emojis, logos, and maps in a sensory overload designed to mimic how the outside world might feel for Christopher.

Full credit should be given to the ensemble who play multiple roles and manoeuvre both props and people in surprising and resourceful ways. Watch Christopher float through space or walk on walls in a way which belies the physical effort involved.

This is not just a play about Asperger’s or neurodiversity, but about family, neighbourhood, education, and persistence. It forces us to think about the restrictions we place on ourselves and how we meet our own challenges. Be sure to stay to the very end, after the applause, to see how Christopher solves a unique personal challenge of his own. My maths geek plus-one loves this unexpected, metafictional epilogue.

Age Recommendation – 11+

Running Time – 2 hours 30 minutes (including 20-minute interval)

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