Life viewed through the eyes of youngsters are usually quite powerful, in that they most often than not speak their mind without filter. Life viewed through the eyes of a youngster who simply can’t tell a lie can unlock parts of your imagination you didn’t even know was within your scope of comprehension. That's the honest perspective of life you will be treated to at Theatre on the Bay, until 3 November 2018, with the captivating The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon challenged people's perception of the truth when the mystery-novel was published in May 2003. It took readers of all ages on an exceptional and surprising journey with Christopher Boone who set himself the task of detecting who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s dog. The title aptly quotes Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1982 short story, The Adventures of Silver Blaze where a racehorse disappears, as Christopher reveals himself as a modern day Holmes, leaving no stone unturned in trying to solve the seemingly unsolvable and, in so doing, uncovering more than meets the eye.
This journey was beautifully adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, with a text that respects Christopher’s original first person telling and the themes of fear and bravery that are revealed through his case notes. In the absence of high-tech visual bells and whistles (as is generally associated with other staging of this award-winning play) the current staging —exceptionally directed by Paul Griffin— focusses on the text at the heart of it all and highlights the themes in a manner that will, to some degree, be relatable to every audience member.
When it comes to the issue of stereotypes in the context of Curious Incident the experience audiences take from it very much depends on their preconceived ideas of what the play is about. It’s generally believed that Christopher has Asperger's, a description that presupposes much. However, Haddon never expressly characterised our hero so; it appears he intentionally avoided any labels when revealing Christopher’s character development.
Haddon in 2009 even wrote: ‘Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s. It’s a novel whose central character describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties". Indeed he never uses the words ‘Asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (I slightly regret that fact that the word ‘Asperger’s’ was used on the cover). If anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about Christopher.’
The narrative, as drawn into the play, therefore allows Christopher to test (and constantly shift) his own boundaries, proving to himself and to everyone else that he can do anything he sets his mind to. It also adds a very clever additional layer to the play —the audience observes the unfolding of the mystery from the perspective of an outsider, literally looking in from the outside as they take in all that is happening onstage. Because of that, the play has a built in relatability; you as audience member have a secondary link to it all in what you feel and experience from your outside-in observation of what Christopher feels and experiences through his first-hand account of events. That’s where the relatability of the play most powerfully shines —not in that it calls on similarity or comparability, but rather in that it draws on our emotional reactions (which can be anything to any person) in response to what we are seeing.
The current staging does a great job at exploring both the primary (Christopher) experience and the secondary (audience) experience, and thus allows you to connect with and embrace the magic of the story, in all its facets, for what it means to you personally.
Through his interactions with his family, neighbours, friends, strangers, and the world at large you start cheering Kai Brummer as this production's Christopher on, as he gradually reveals aspects of his character to the audience. These revelations are not just focussed on his struggles, but also reveals the high functioning positives of Christopher's personality in balancing his socialisation struggles, with the power of his frankness in communication and the imaginative scope of his analytical mind. The talented cast does a great job at maintaining that balance.
Ashely Dowds as Ed Boone, Christopher’s father, gives an exceptional performance. His portrayal is raw and gripping as he struggles with his own triggers and fears. Jenny Stead as Judy Boone, his mother, expertly drives up the emotional arc of the play as she tries to connect with Christopher, while his teacher and guide Siobhan, sensitively played by Lesoko Seabe, is Christopher’s calming influence in the otherwise stormy ‘night-time’ of the emotively-charged adults in his life.
The rest of the stellar cast (Kate Normington, Genna Galloway, Clayton Evertson, Dylan Edy, Liz Szymczak and Nicholas Ellenbogen) add to the pace of the play with their interludes and interjections that provide either security or anxiety at the right dramatic pressure points. Griffin’s direction allows the strong cast to truly tap into the meaning of the dialogue and, in so doing so, allows the narrative to be the true star.
Although the set can, at first, appear simplistic (not necessarily a bad thing, just different to the visuals Google offers up when you do a play search) the limited visual effects do not detract, but rather add to the showcasing of the text. The artistic set has the stylised yet practical qualities that is required to support the nuanced, stereotype-breaking story being told.
This staging of Curious Incident both mesmerises and vividly puts a question mark behind ‘conventional’ social rules. It highlights that human behaviour is complex and reminds us that relationships trigger many emotional reactions linked to variable individual experiences. It shows life to be as colourful as the brightly lit stage that becomes the canvas for Christopher’s adventure, and encourages everyone to believe in themselves, embrace their individualism, and #StayCurious.
You have until 3 November 2018 to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the newly renovated Theatre on the Bay. Tickets are available through Computicket.