The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

“When the universe has finished exploding all the stars will slow down, like a ball that has been thrown into the air, and they will come to a halt and they will all begin to fall towards the centre of the universe again. And then there will be nothing to stop us seeing all the stars in the world because they will all be moving towards us, gradually faster and faster, and we will know that the world is going to end soon because when we look up into the sky at night there will be no darkness, just the blazing light of billions and billions of stars, all falling.”

Mark Haddon

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a long time ago, when I was about ten, I think, and that was probably too early, because I didn’t quite get it. I also think, though, that the theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel – the play that was staged by the National Theatre, that was filmed and broadcast live as part of National Theatre Live, and that was screened as an encore recently at a Cinema Near Me – is a lot more powerful and, dare I say it, relatable than the book was.

Some background info: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old with Asperger’s who finds his neighbour’s dog dead in the garden and sets out to solve the mystery of its murder. And, of course, this being a Story, the mystery of the dog in the night-time proves to be a great deal more mysterious and more involved than the simple death of a dog.

Like many of the National Theatre’s productions, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is fairly experimental. It’s performed “in the round” – so the stage area sits in the middle of the audience – which is, of course, a challenge for the actors and the set designers alike. If the audience is all around you, which way do you face? Where can you put seats, tables, wardrobes so they won’t block faces? Where is offstage?

So the set is simple, effective, dynamic, consisting mainly of white blocks which function as any number of things – seats, suitcases, tables. There are LED lights in the stage floor, which make up houses and trains and, at one point, algebra. It’s all very simple, and all very – for want of a better word – cool. And that multimedia, immersive approach (of course, not as effective in film as it would be on stage, but the effect is still there) does something very interesting: not only do we get Christopher’s verbalised thoughts, we get his experience of the world; we are surrounded by it, by confusion and noise and chaos; for a while, we are allowed to see the world as Christopher does.

Of course, all of that would be as nothing without a good cast, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time certainly has that. Luke Treadaway playing the lead is astonishingly convincing, given that he looks about seven years too old for the part, full of conviction and a kind of strange charisma. There’s a few famous-ish faces in there, too: Una Stubbs (known to all the Sherlockians out there as Mrs Hudson) is characteristically old-womanish (I sense typecasting here, though); Paul Ritter from Great Expectations is angry and bitter and conflicted as Christopher’s father; Niamh Cusack is particularly good as his teacher.

It’s a very satisfying story, this, a story of there and back again, of finding yourself, finding your courage, finding your way through a world which is confusing and scary and yet occasionally wonderful. It’s a story that allows us to empathise with someone who thinks in a way which may seem utterly alien to us; more, it’s a story that allows us to relate to him. It’s a remarkable story, in that way, and an important one, and one which reminds us what stories are for in the first place.

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