To adapt Mark Haddon’s best-selling and award-winning book is no small feat.
Simon Stephens is more than up to the task. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a story about a teenage boy with behavioural problems named Christopher Boone, who after finding the neighbour’s dog murdered with a garden fork sets out to uncover the murderer. On the way, not only is the mystery unlocked while learning a lot about Christopher and his authentic and rich inner world, but many other family secrets unfold. Throughout Stephens’ adaptation runs a clever conceit that you are watching a school play based on Christopher’s own book, creating an ingenious ‘stage within a stage’.
Haddon’s widely popular story captures the imagination because as much as it is about the interesting circumstances that develop, it has a deeper layer that goes beyond and explores the nature of truth and frail human relationships.
The stage design by Bunny Christie is well-organised, laid out within a cubic grid with screens and simple squares, and each prop has multiple uses. The cast does a fine job, with Scott Reid putting in a superb performance as Christopher through an unflinching gaze.
Stephens uses Haddon’s descriptions of Christopher’s personality and dreams – diary entries – and this has been beautifully adapted to the stage using a powerful multimedia performance to invoke this peculiar state of mind. It’s not difficult to be in Christopher’s head and see his response to the external world as well. This is a major achievement of Marianne Elliott’s production, one that even Haddon himself doubted possible, which is why for years he claimed the book wouldn’t translate to the stage.
Many have labelled Christopher as living with Asperger’s syndrome, but carrying etiquette is beyond the point, and the story has a much more powerful impact showing someone who can be anyone on the autistic spectrum.
At times, the show is difficult to bear, shining lights on the many difficulties of parenting, life’s unpredictable ways, and the troubles of a child who finds it difficult to socially interact.
The production has won seven Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards, including Best Play. And it won them for a reason: Curious Incident is deeply emotional, ingenious, and touches you in a transformative way. You’ll never look out from the windows of a train in the same way again, think about mathematics with a bored mind, or accept everyday things for granted.
Photo: Brinkhoff Magenburg