It’s hard to find something to say about the National’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that hasn’t been repeatedly mentioned already. The touring production at the Birmingham Hippodrome is entirely deserving of the rave 5 star reviews which this show garners at every turn. It is intelligent, intricate and human, moving the audience both to laughter and to tears.
Special mention goes to Scott Reid as the lead character Christopher Boone. Christopher is a 15 year old boy who loves maths, space, the colour red, and his pet rat Toby. He appears to suffer from a form of Aspergers or autistic condition (author Mark Haddon has never confirmed exactly what), and so he struggles with social interaction and physical contact. Reid’s bright, articulate voice conveys the speed at which Christopher’s brain works on mathematical and social problems. Whilst his physical performance lacks the precision and finesse seen in previous casts of this production, Reid’s timing and delivery is impeccable, highlighting the humour and sound, simple logic of Simon Stephens’ script,
The individual performances of the rest of the cast are a little uneven; their strength comes as a powerful, physical ensemble which creates Christopher’s house, a threatening London crowd, and lifts him up to soar into space (with Toby of course).
The design (by Bunny Christie) is at first glance deceptively simple. However, the box-like space is as fluid and adaptable as Christopher’s mind. The individual houses on his street are depicted by silver lines which grow like solder across the circuit board of the stage. Hidden, illuminated cupboards are revealed in the wall panels, containing unexpected delights like the model train set which creates such a beautiful image at the end of Act 1.
Paule Constable’s lighting is equally changeable and busy. The rig is visible to the audience, enforcing the idea that the play takes place in Christopher’s head. Very cool, white and controlled, it reflects the linear way in which Christopher views the world. However, there are moments of pure magic like the projected stars which surround Christopher as he dreams of space, and the hoards of LEDs which chase the cast around the stage as they battle through the Underground.
The adaptation of Curious Incident from page to stage is sympathetic and very true to the original text. The decision to have teacher Siobhan narrating the majority of the story is very effective. It frees Christopher to create the physical world of his story, and enforces the strong bond between teacher and pupil. Moments of cross-cutting between different parts of the story create tension and suspense which keep the audience completely engaged.
A particular highlight comes as Christopher sits his A Level Maths exam, and begins to explain to the audience how he solved the first question. Siobhan, however, interrupts him, saying that the audience will not find it interesting (and also acknowledging, for the first time, that they are performing a play). They agree that Christopher will explain the question after the curtain call, just for those audience members who are interested. For those who are familiar with the book, this is exactly what happens. Never have so many been halted in their tracks by a maths question.
If you need still need further persuasion to go and see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, there is an adorable distraction in the form of unanimous ‘awh’ moment towards the end of the show, which really tops off the absorbing magic of this production.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 8 July and tickets can be found here.