The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre
The award-winning stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was initially met with a great deal of scepticism, but the doubts have long since dissipated and the production continues to go from strength to strength. Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name became an instant classic, but it was not a book that obviously carried potential for a theatrical makeover, and many wondered how it could be staged in a way that would not detract from the protagonist’s unique and unintentionally amusing first-person narrative.
When 15-year-old Christopher finds the neighbour’s dog, Wellington, lying dead outside his house, impaled by a garden fork, he sets himself a mission to find the killer. Christopher has an unnamed condition that belongs somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and his behavioural difficulties limit his capacity for interpersonal exchanges. He often turns inwards and finds relief in numbers and scientific facts, but the resolution to avenge Wellington’s death forces him to step out of his comfort zone. Eventually, his investigative pursuits lead him to unexpected discoveries about his family.
One of the highlights of the show is perhaps the multimedia, larger-than-life set, which in some way replaces the untransferable quirky features of the book and provides the element of originality. It also serves as a tool to better convey the protagonist’s obsessive interest in maths. The entire performing space is covered in a monochrome mathematical grid that doubles up as a blackboard, as a screen, and sometimes lights up to form different coloured patterns. The hi-tech set is spacious enough to allow a great range of movement and the actors leave no corner unused as they lift one another up in the air, and support each other in acrobatic moves and even through a horizontal walk against the walls.
The stage is an extension of Christopher’s mind and it emphasises his perspective throughout. Details that are important to him are magnified, and sometimes literally projected in large characters in the background. The necessity of tightening the plot means that the emotional aspect of the family dynamics becomes secondary. Nevertheless, the audience gets a feel of the perpetual anxiety that characterises Christopher’s world, and a glimpse of his parents’ frustration and sadness. The action, however, never lingers on these aspects and the priority appears to be an immediacy in the storytelling.
Though-provoking and touching, the play can rely on its tragicomical quality to captivate the audience on more than one level. Now in its fourth year, the production can be said to have succeeded in the challenging task of living up to its source’s enormous success.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at the Gielgud Theatre until 18th February 2017. Book your tickets here.