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Mark Haddon’s novel has always been one of my favourite books and so when it was announced that it would be made into a stage production, it became one of my dreams to get along to the theatre and see it. This year, on February 14th at the Gielgud Theatre in London, this dream materialised.
The play (and book) follows the life of Christopher Boone (Graham Butler), a teenage boy who has an unspecified mental disability often considered to be a form of autism. Christopher, who lives with his father Ed (Nicholas Tennant) after the death of his mother Judy (Emily Joyce), narrates the book and it is entirely from his perspective. It begins with the discovery of the murder of a neighbour’s dog, and Christopher’s decision to investigate the death of the dog. As he proceeds with his investigation, he discovers new things about his past and his family, and old tensions resurface. Throughout, Christopher records his findings and thoughts in a book, a school project, which becomes the real-life published version.
The rather small but grand theatre gave the audience a sense of intimacy with the cast and this was only exacerbated with infrequent lines directed at the audience and almost in-jokes at points. Every line kept you enthralled and, when the interval arrived, you just wished for the play to start again already. There were even moments where I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat (and not just to see over the edge of the balcony).
Graham Butler portrayed Christopher perfectly, accurately demonstrating his thoughts, feelings, and the experiences associated with the disability. His relationship with his mentor Siobhan (Sarah Woodward) was effectively displayed and how core this bond was in his life was emphasised flawlessly. The portrayal of his parents Ed (Nicholas Tennant) and Judy (Emily Joyce) gave a sterling performance of the anguish, heartbreak and conflict within the family’s circle, leaving the audience with tears in their eyes and shivers up their spine at points. Many of the cast members also played minor characters, but their transition into these roles was seamless and, whilst caught up in the play, it was difficult to even notice that this was happening.
The use of the stage was magical. As a book with so many locations to portray, it was perfectly designed and utilised to distinguish where Christopher was. When Christopher was on the London Underground, an escalator popped out of the back wall and tube tracks out of the floor. Projectors were used to aid our understanding of Christopher’s senses and the sensory overload he experiences as part of his disability. Both the floor and the walls were cupboards, where he would withdraw items from throughout the play, and he used chalk considerably to demonstrate his points.
Some seats were designated prime number seats “by Christopher”, although the importance of the prime number was not alluded to throughout the production. If you were unfamiliar with the book, this would seem almost entirely random. However, lucky theatregoers in these seats could win a prize if the letters in their name added up to a prime number.
The play was magnificent and all credit is due to the director Marianne Elliott, Simon Stephens who adapted it from the novel, and the cast who provided a first-rate performance. But, the fantastic use of the stage and technology to illustrate the story proves that you should never forget about the behind-the-scenes technicians, so they should be particularly applauded for their incredible effort in this premier production.
I left the theatre simply wondering: can I see the matinée performance tomorrow?
The UK & Ireland Tour Production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will be coming to Birmingham Hippodrome on 26th May – 6th June.