Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

As I mentioned in my September Now Playing/ Wishlist, I recently saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And by recently I might mean over a month ago, but WOAH time needs to slow down. I’ve wanted to see this play since it debuted in the West End three years ago, as the book features pretty highly in my all-time favourites and I’ve read it more times than I should probably admit.

Why it’s taken me three years to see it is a mystery to all of us, but I finally put my foot down, overruled the student spending tendencies that I still seem to be clinging onto and bought tickets.

I’m going to jump right in and talk about the set, because it’s such a significant part of this production. The stage resembles a box, with screens making up the floor and three walls, and all four surfaces are marked with gridlines to convey Christopher’s mathematical mind-set. The screens are employed effectively throughout, from establishing physical boundaries, to demonstrating Christopher’s surroundings through his eyes, and mapping out his thought processes. In addition to the set, props prove an innovative and prominent addition, particularly through devices such as Christopher’s model train set that he gradually builds throughout the first act. Both the speed of construction and direction of the track reflect on Christopher’s emotional stability, adding yet another layer to the atmospheric intensity which often builds up to breaking point, on at least one character’s behalf.

The play is narrated by Siobhan, Christopher’s school mentor, as she reads the book Christopher has written. At first I was unsure about this set-up, mostly because it detracts from Christopher’s unique narrative voice, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense; Christopher doesn’t like talking to people and struggles to understand emotional expression, meaning there is no realistic circumstance under which he would vocally narrate his book himself. Furthermore, Siobhan’s narration allows actor Sion Daniel Young to give his full attention to a comprehensive portrayal of Christopher’s defensive front.

Although I came to terms with this narrative set-up, there were still elements of Siobhan’s character that I didn’t like, but I think this was largely due to the fact that she didn’t line up with the Siobhan I had conjured in my head from reading the novel, rather than there being anything wrong with Rebecca Lacey’s depiction. However, her all-white suit seemed an odd choice, and gave her an angelic or “deceased narrator” feel. Had the play been entirely from Christopher’s perspective I could have put this down to some form of idolisation, but as the top layer of narrative has us believe that this is a play Christopher has made from his book for a school project, Siobhan’s appearance is unnecessarily conspicuous.

In fact the whole concept of the play within a play bothers me. Although it made perfect logical sense, there was just no reason for it. The production does not benefit in any way from having this extra narrative layer, and certainly didn’t allow for any kind of narration, time or space that couldn’t exist without this frame. If the play was simply a real-time representation of what was happening, with Siobhan narrating Christopher’s book as he gives it to her to read, it would be just as, if not more, effective.

In addition to staging, choreography is another aspect in which this production excels, presenting really creative and original methods of conveying situations, places, moods and actions. The electronic-dominated soundtrack is mostly a powerful atmospheric tool, although it does seem a little too melodic at times, in a way that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of Christopher’s mind-set.

And I can’t review this show without mentioning Sion Daniel Young’s amazing performance as Christopher. His energy throughout the show is remarkable and his intensity does not falter. What is most impressive, though, is the way in which he becomes Christopher’s mannerisms, through speech, body language and movement around the space.

Even being an avid supporter of Mark Haddon’s novel, I was not disappointed by the stage adaptation. It’s such an intense and emotional production, with just the right balance of comic moments, which is extremely well translated from the book. But at the same time it’s a completely different experience to reading the original novel. It is refreshing to be presented with emotions of characters that you don’t get through Christopher’s narration in the book, such as the emotional strain that Christopher’s behavioural difficulties has on his father. Plus, characters such as Christopher’s mother, who are relatively flat characters in the novel, are really brought to life on stage.

I’m a strong believer in always reading the book first, but this is a production that can be enjoyed, appreciated and understood whether you’re a fan of the book or not.

Have you read or seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? What have you most recently seen at the theatre?


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