Author: Mark Haddon
Playwright: Simon Stephens
Director: Marianne Elliott
Stars: Luke Treadaway, Nick Sidi, Niamh Cusack, Nicola Walker
The National Theatre of England simulcast a television broadcast of their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on September 6th, and it is now being released in cinemas in the US.
The story begins with Christopher (Luke Treadaway), an autistic fifteen year-old, standing over the murdered body of Wellington, the neighbor’s dog. The neighbor, Mrs. Shears, incorrectly assumes that Christopher has killed her dog with the pitchfork. After a series of misunderstandings between Christopher, Mrs. Shears, and later the police, we meet Christopher’s Father (Nick Sidi) at the police station. Once at home, Christopher’s father tells him not to worry about Wellington and stay out of other people’s business. Not willing to leave well enough alone, Christopher decides to solve the mystery of Wellington’s murder.
While this occurs, the story is narrated by Chevon (Niamh Cusack), Christopher’s teacher, reading a book she encouraged him to write. Through the intermittent narration we are privy to Christopher’s thoughts and perceptions, and come to understand what we are watching is the realization of his book. We also learn that Christopher lives alone with his father, his mother having died two years earlier of a heart attack in hospital.
Christopher believes that whoever murdered Wellington a.) knew the dog, and b.) wanted to hurt Mrs. Shears. As he proceeds with his investigation he inadvertently learns from an elderly neighbor that Mrs. Shears ex-husband had an affair with his mother, and the neighbor was unaware that his mother had died. All the while Christopher continues to document everything in his book.
But later his father discovers and reads the book. Enraged, he confiscates the book and forbids Christopher from continuing his investigation. Once alone in the house Christopher searches for the book and discovers it hidden in his father’s room with much more. With the book is a stack of unopened letters all addressed to him from London. Confusingly, they are all from his mother and post-marked after her death. Christopher now has two mysteries to solve.
An important item to remember (which I had to be reminded of myself) is that what I watched on the screen was originally simulcast with the live production and not released after the fact and edited together. In other words, every close-up, cut-to, establishing shot, etc. was determined and choreographed before hand to make sure all the cameramen knew where to be and when and with what zoom in order for the director in the control room to immediately cut-to a specific shot at the same time it is performed so that it was broadcast to the desired effect. With all that said, the crew and creative professionals did an incredible job with only one minor slip in the second act.
Simon Stephens, the playwright, created an excellent adaptation of the book. The use of Chevon as narrator of the book in order for us to understand Christopher’s thoughts and perception is ingenious. Christopher is autistic. He cannot read body language, interprets everything literally, does not understand metaphors and slang, and does not have the ability to filter his senses. Stephens also reminds us on occasion what we are watching is a production of Christopher’s book of what happened and not what happened. At one point at the train station another police officer comes looking for Christopher but during the play it is the same officer. Christopher interrupts the play an reiterates it is another police officer; at which time a new actor replaces the old.
As for the set production, the decision was made to perform in-the-round. This allows for minimal set dressing and much creativity. The use of an elevated stage with access panels and LEDs, projected images, music, and cubes to represent just about anything is an example of such creative imagination that I was in awe of it.
And the acting. The success or failure of the production rests entirely on the shoulders of Luke Treadaway as Christopher, and he succeeds. He is in every scene and makes you feel every emotion. You truly care for and invested in Christopher and his story. You also care about Nick Sidi as the father who is giving-up so much for his special son, and Nicola Walker as the mother who cannot. And when trust is broken and reality lays low expectation, you genuinely want these characters to be all right in the end.
Grade = A
PS The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of my all time favorite books. I discovered it on a trip in 2005 and read it in two days. The success of the play is due in no small part to the success of the book in putting you into the mind of an autistic person.
Unfortunately, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have the tamer US cover of the book instead of the European one I purchased and show below.