Simon Stephens' adaptation of Mark Haddon's modern classic offers a high-octane visual spectacle, but occasionally loses sight of its origins.
Director and designer team, Marianne Elliot and Bunny Christie, have used every string in their collective bow to pull together this production. Now in its third year playing to audiences across the globe, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers a plethora of stage tricks and gimmicks to audiences who are, evidently, lapping it up night after night. There’s live animals, physical theatre, big-budget projections, strobes, confetti cannons – I’d argue it would be impossible for audiences to be bored, but then the couple in front of me didn’t return for the second act.
To be fair to them – and others who may come away less than impressed – it’s all a bit much. Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Haddon’s story is framed as the ‘play’ that has come as a result of protagonist Christopher Boone having written down his adventures to share with his mentor Siobhan. If that sentence seems confusing, don’t expect much more from the production – the conceit is haphazardly and sporadically signposted, and adds literally nothing to the show. It doesn’t make any sense for Christopher, a boy who struggles with personal relationships and unfamiliar experiences, to have decided that the best way for him to tell his story is through the medium of a theatrical performance, with a live audience, and with himself in the lead role. Admittedly, it allows for the multi-roling and fluid, minimal set – some of the highlights of the show – to come into play, but it all seems a little contrived in the long run.
Luckily, the ‘play’ conceit is mentioned so rarely that it’s easy to forget about it altogether and so it doesn’t mar the audience’s enjoyment of what are some stellar performances, and undeniably a universally appealing story. Joshua Jenkins as Christopher is mesmerising and heartbreaking, all nervous energy and with a real feeling of never quite being comfortable in his own skin. Stephens’ script allows for Jenkins to make use of one of Christopher’s most refreshing character traits – without meaning to be, he is often rude, and this provides some of the funniest moments of the play. Ed (Stuart Laing) and Judy (Gina Isaac), Christopher’s parents, make up the backbone of the strong supporting cast members, both equally worn down by life.
It would be criminal not to give a nod to Christie and her team’s award-winning design work – whether it was the best choice to portray Christopher’s story or not, it is still gorgeously imaginative. Particularly enjoyable moments are the projections through Christopher’s journey into London, and the seemingly popular train set that crescendoes at the end of the first act.
Curious is an important production: it’s great to see the work that the tour has done with schoolchildren, and the play is without a doubt a ‘something for everyone’ piece. The only shame is that the beautiful subtleties of Haddon’s novel are occasionally lost between the flashing lights, flying rats and that damn show-stealer of a puppy.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at The Mayflower Theatre until July 4th. Tickets are still available here.