Reviewed by Katy Hart
Last evening (Monday 22 May 2017) I had the pleasure of going to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the New Theatre in Oxford. The play was written in 2008 by Simon Stephens and is based on the 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon.
We arrived in good time, enjoyed a drink in the theatre’s ‘Piano Bar’ and sat down to read the programme. In Simon Stephens words … “It is a story about a deeply familiar world – a teenage boy’s life in an English suburb, but it is told from the point of view of a boy with an exceptional mind. Christopher Boone sees truths about our world that we have never noticed before. The tensions between the deeply familiar and the exceptional are exhilarating”.
As we entered the main theatre the scene was already set, centre stage was a dog with a garden fork piercing it.
Christopher, a fifteen-year-old boy with an autism spectrum condition, living alone with his Father, who has told him that his mother, has died, is on stage as the lights come up. He has discovered the body of the neighbour’s dead dog and comes under suspicion from Mrs Shears, the dog’s owner. The police are called to the scene, and when the policeman tries to touch Christopher, he reacts and hits him resulting in Christopher being arrested and given a caution. The police are not following up the incident with the dog, and so Christopher decides that he is going to investigate the dog’s death even though his father orders him to stay out of other people’s business. Christopher embarks upon the most extraordinary journey of his life. Up until this time he has never ventured alone out of the cul-de-sac in which they live. Christopher attends a school for pupils with special needs. He is there because of his poor social understanding causing him confusion and behavioural problems. These behavioural problems are triggered by things not going according to plan, or by people saying things that are ambiguous, and by crowds and loud noises. These quirks and behaviours cause him great difficulties, and as he encounters people he has never met before living in his street he writes down his findings in a book. It is during these encounters he finds out his mother had been having an affair with the neighbour’s husband. Christopher’s father discovers the book and confiscates it after realising that Christopher has been dangerously close to finding out this hidden truth. Christopher sets out to find where his father has hidden the book so he can continue his investigations. Whilst searching for it he comes across a hidden batch of letters addressed to him from his mother, dated after her supposed death. He is deeply upset when he realises his father has been lying to him and this is compounded when his father then confesses that he admits he had lied about his mother’s death, and that in a heated argument with the neighbour he had infact killed the dog. Christopher is totally overwhelmed by this and fearing that his father may now kill him too, he decides he must leave and using an address on the letters from his mother, he sets off to travel to London to find her. Given that he has never ventured out of the cul-de-sac this really is completely overwhelming for Christopher, the uncertainty of what he is doing, where he is going, the crowds, the noise all give a really profound insight into behavioural disorders and autism spectrum conditions. Christopher does eventually find his way to his mother’s address and despite her delight at seeing her son, her new partner is not so delighted. Strains in his mother’s new relationship result in it breaking down and Christopher and his mother return to their hometown. The play finishes with Christopher returning to school to take an ‘A’ level maths exam, and him trying to rebuild the damaged relationship with his father.
It is written in the first person perspective which adds to the powerfulness of the play. Throughout the play you feel a real empathy for Christopher and the difficulties that he faces on a day to day basis. He is incredibly logical and he uses this logic in two ways in the play – firstly his mathematics in school, and secondly his detective work in trying to piece together what had happened to the neighbour’s dog.
The relationships within the play are very cleverly woven together, and it is wonderful to see how these impact upon the life of Christopher, his father who has tried so hard to protect him, his mother who feels she has been unable to be all he needs of her and has let him down, his teacher who is one of the only people he feels understands him, and his beloved pet. Christopher sees the world in a way that most of us have never noticed before and it is enlightening to see this as the play unfolds. He uses his love of mathematics as a safe place to cope with life turmoil’s. His world is black and white, and mathematics is something that you can prove with 100% certainty unlike most other things in this world.
Special mention must be made to Scott Reid, who played the role of Christopher. A very powerfully played role with such sensitivity and totally believable. Also, Lucianne McEvoy playing the role of Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, again such a powerful performance.
In fairness, the whole cast was exceptional, totally captivating. The technical team with lighting and effects were incredible – every word was heard. The set was very minimalist throughout, and yet it was perfect – very cleverly adapted for each scene and a fantastic way of demonstrating Christopher’s ‘exceptionally mathematical mind and technological interests. Anything more and it would have detracted from what was a very moving production.
Would I recommend this show? Absolutely. Over two million people have been captivated by this play and If you have an evening free this week I am certain you will not be disappointed. Arrive early as we did and take a moment to unwind in the ‘Piano Bar’, sit back, relax and enjoy the journey with Christopher. Mark Haddon, the author of the original book is quoted as saying “Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.”
Tickets cost from £16.90 to £41.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is at the New Theatre in Oxford from 22-27 May 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/oxford or call the box office on 0844 871 3020.
New Theatre Oxford, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AG | 0844 871 3020