Theatre Review: The Curious Incident

Date Posted: 14/03/2013

Rachel Bailey went to review The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and having previously read the novel, was delighted to have her expectations exceeded. 

From being seated to leaving the theatre, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is one of the most engaging and entertaining shows I have seen in the West End for quite some time.

Playing at the Apollo Theatre, having recently transferred from London’s National Theatre, the production stars Luke Treadaway, Niamh Cusack, Seán Gleeson and Holly Aird. The play is based on the novel by Mark Haddon, and I was wary that loving the book so much might mar my experience of seeing it on stage. How wrong I was.

Directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse), The Curious Incident follows the story of 15-year old Christopher Boone, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, is a mathematical genius, and is intent on playing detective to an unsolved crime on his street. The opening scene of a dead dog with a garden fork stuck in its side definitely makes for an engaging beginning, and the audience is ultimately drawn in to the point that when it comes to the interval, you don’t want an ice-cream, you just want more action.

Luke Treadaway’s performance as Christopher is outstanding. I cannot begin to imagine the intense focus it must take to play such a character and get it so spot on. From his speech mannerisms and emotional vulnerability to his body language and hand gestures, Treadaway gives an utterly believable performance of someone suffering from Asperger’s and I didn’t doubt his acting skills for a minute, despite the sensitivity of issues raised within the production. Christopher’s belief in himself and his future is inspiring, and he’s a really loveable character.

It’s funny as well; if you’re going to see it, don’t think for a moment that it’s merely social commentary on someone with behavioural problems. The script is well-written, actions are executed to perfection and there is deliberate emphasis put on the way Christopher sees the world compared to other characters such as his mother Judy (Aird) or father Ed (Gleeson).

His school teacher Siobhan (Cusack) who also takes on the role of narrator helps all she can, but is really just a tool to move the story along. If I’m honest I found her overly-optimistic and condescending character a little annoying, but it worked in terms of illustrating and comparing Christopher’s relationships with all the featured characters. 

The cast is made up of ten people; I think anymore would have made the stage overcrowded. Several scenes involving the whole cast were well-staged in terms of space, and the ensemble members played multiple parts throughout, making for what felt like a bigger cast.

Movement was a big part of the show - the swaying of people on a train, the hurrying of people in London, the speed of time passing – and it was all so simple, yet had such a fantastic effect. I felt involved with the action taking place on stage; I experienced Christopher’s decisions and heartaches, and I wanted to comfort the parents when their lives didn’t run smoothly. A show that makes you feel so strongly has to be a good one, right?

The set and stage is also integral to the engaging nature of the play. The black backdrop with a couple of props appears deceivingly simple when you first arrive, but by the end you’re wondering what architectural genius designed such an intricate platform. Hidden compartments, a chalk board, light up surfaces, a train and an underground station are just a few of the tricks you’ll witness should you go and see the show. Add to this the appearances of a real-life rat named Toby and an utterly adorable golden retriever puppy, and this show guarantees to win audiences over in every way possible.

I really can’t recommend this show enough, and I think it would be of interest to a wide age range of audiences. It might not be an all-singing, all-dancing production, and yes, it might be slightly serious in topic, but the overall product of the show, the lough-out-loud moments and the outstanding acting really does make The Curious Incident an instant hit in my eyes. And if you’re lucky (like me), you might just get to win a prize.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is booking at the Apollo Theatre in London until 31st August, and group travel organisers will find discounted ticket prices when booking for parties of eight or more people.

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