The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, September 9, 2012 Under: Random thoughts

 


For a review of the 2017 production, see "UPDATE" below.

Very impressed with the National Theatre’s
adaption of Mark Haddon’s novel about an autistic teenager, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, which I saw last week.  As the book itself is told almost exclusively from the perspective of the autistic boy, I was curious to see how they would adapt it for the stage.  I think they’ve succeeded in managing to be not only faithful to the original work, but also to create something new that gives you a fresh perspective on the book.  If that sounds slightly contradictory, let me try to explain:

In the book, the focus is very much on Christopher, the narrator, and it is his very distinctive way of looking at things which naturally tends to dominate.  This leaves the reader with quite a lot of work to do in imagining how the other non-autistic characters relate to him – because although Christopher describes what they say and do, his autism means that his understanding of what they are actually feeling is very limited.  That’s not meant to be a criticism of him or of the book – arguably, it’s a strength of the book because it helps to get across quite how different Christopher’s autistic perspective is from the way that most of us perceive the world.  In the play, however, we get something of a shift in focus away from Christopher.

In particular, what comes across far more strongly is the experience of Christopher’s parents who, understandably, find him quite difficult to live with at times (even though none of that is his fault – it’s just the way he is).  For example, the fact that he dislikes being touched comes across more powerfully when represented physically on stage.  As a parent, I think this must be one of the most difficult things about having an autistic child – that you must want to give them a hug, but that may be the last thing they want from you.  So you must spend a lot of time repressing that desire whilst having to be extremely understanding about a lot of behaviours which (from a non-autistic person) would be seen as inconsiderate or downright awkward – which must take its toll emotionally (and we see this very clearly in the play).

That said, Christopher remains at the centre of the piece and there are a number of highly effective scenes (making full use of lighting, choreography and other “stage-craft”) which are designed specifically to convey to the audience how the world looks to him.  Again though, seeing these represented physically on stage is more direct than reading about them in the book – so this further adds to the emotional impact of the play (as compared with the book).  As usual with NT productions, it is also very well acted – and a significant part of the success of the play is undoubtedly down to the standard of the performances as well as the writing/direction/production.  Anyway, bravo National Theatre for pulling off such a successful adapation.

I gather tickets are somewhat scarce but I saw it in the cinema via the NT Live programme which provides a live feed of that evening’s performance.  It was very well filmed, so if you can get to see it via that route, I’d recommend it.

UPDATE 14.4.2017:  took the kids to see it live at the Gielgud Theatre earlier in the week, where it is nearing the end of its West End run (finishes beginning of June apparently).  As with the NT version, it remains extremely well staged - and in some respects, they had improved on the staging of the version I initially saw.  Both kids certainly enjoyed it (eldest is 15, youngest is nearly 12).  However, I felt it was played more for laughs than the NT version, something which tends to distance you from it emotionally - so Christopher's autism didn't come across as effectively.  Nor did I feel the level of sympathy/understanding for the parents that (for me) was one of the most impressive achievements of the first production.  I guess that shows how much depends on the actors and the director.  It could also have been a function of the NT Live filming, since it involved a certain amount of close-up camera-work, which may amplify the emotional impact (as compared with watching it on stage from seats fairly near the back in our case....).  However, I'm pleased to report that it was an entirely safe experience, involving no falling masonry (see this report).

I gather the show is now on tour around the UK and the US.  I think it is still worth seeing - in particular, it is brilliantly staged and I suspect it is easier to maintain the consistency of that aspect than is the case with performances by different actors.  But depending on the production, you may not come away being quite as impressed as I was with the NT version, where both the staging and the acting were really excellent - and (as explained in my initial review) gave me a fresh perspective on the story.

In : Random thoughts 


Tags: "mark haddon" autism theatre stage play 
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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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