Wednesday 20 March 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time @ The Apollo Theatre

The plot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name, is indeed a curious little incident.  When Christopher Boone discovers his neighbour’s dog is dead he decides to uncover the culprit and write a book on his findings, which takes him on an adventure where the truth about his family is revealed.

Haddon utilizes a unique narrative style to tell his story.  Christopher suffers from autism and, written from his point of view, the novel gives us an insight into his way of thinking – logical and mathematical.  The success of this production similarly rests on its narrative presentation: at once childlike yet containing adult themes, this is a simple and lucid family drama dressed in a complex, modern multimedia setting.  At its core, The Curious Incident… juxtaposes the order and structure of Christopher’s extraordinary mind with the chaos of human emotion.

Structure comes from the story’s narration directly from Christopher’s book, later breaking the fourth wall as it’s literally re-worked as the play we’re watching.  It does provide some comedy, enhancing the already light-hearted script, but its sudden inclusion in the second half feels a little tacked on. 

Cleverly, the geometric set design from Bunny Christie plays on mathematics as we see Christopher’s mind come to life: abstract and minimal, the graph paper surfaces conceal hidden compartments and diagrams are drawn on the floor with chalk.  Paule Constable’s neon, glowing lighting is stunning, with LEDs lighting up the floor to delineate space, cosmic sparkles reflecting the Milky Way and words and numbers cascading over the set.  Choreographed movement is also employed to skillfully tell story sections in slow-motion, even walking on walls.  The drama is accompanied by an ambient, electronic soundtrack from Adrian Sutton, comprising computer bleeps, bloops and glitches that's at once technological and emotive. The overall result is a spectacular, visual and sonic delight.

The comedic and moving performances bring life to the plot, in friction with the hard geometry of the set.  The monologues from Christopher’s unstable parents (Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker) are particularly heart-breaking as they learn to deal with their autistic son.  At the centre is Christopher himself in a sympathetic portrayal from Luke Treadaway.  Endearing, tender and utterly credible, his behavioural quirks have qualities we can all empathise with.  Judging by audience reactions though, Treadaway is almost overshadowed by Sandy the puppy – a sentimental moment that the play, as a whole, mostly eschews.  And make sure to stay until after the bows for an extra scene.

The Curious Incident… is a clever adaptation and an outstanding piece of theatre.  It might use ultra-modern theatrical techniques but at its core this is a heart-wrenching, human story of compelling performances.  An absolute must-see.