My review of the Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time theatre production

Yesterday evening, I saw The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time theatre performance at the Apollo Theatre in London with my mother. For those who don’t know the story, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time was a short novel written by Mark Haddon in 2003. The story is written through the perspective of a 15 year old boy with Aspergers Syndrome (although the words Aspergers or autism are not mentioned in the book at all), Christopher Boone, who, admittedly rather stereotypically, displays an extremely high level of logic and intelligence, particularly in the areas of Maths and Science, and struggles to understand other people’s communication which can lead to him lashing out at people as he hates being touched and, during the story, several policemen and concerned passers by try to move him by placing their arms on him. Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, dead in her garden having been killed with a pitch fork and decides to investigate who killed him. During this investigation, he also comes across letters hidden in his father’s wardrobe that were written to him by his mother, who he had been told was dead, and kept from him for 2 years. His father then admits that he had killed Wellington after an argument with the neighbour whom he had been dating. Christopher then panics and leaves to find his mother and her new partner, Roger, who was the husband of the neighbour whose dog was killed, in London. I won’t give away the whole story from that point but there is a happy ending for Christopher.

The play itself has won 7 Laurence Olivier awards and is highly praised by theatre critics. I will start with the negative point that I picked up on and will finish with the positive.

The first aspect of the performance that I didn’t agree with was that all the staff were wearing T shirts with the slogan, “I find people confusing”. This is the main phrase associated with both the book and the play and I know that it is a promotion tool to have all the staff wearing these T shirts but the logical part of me couldn’t help wondering why they were wearing these T shirts when they probably understand people ten times more than the average person on the autistic spectrum. I guess it’s my own literal thinking that makes me wonder why someone would wear a T shirt with a slogan on it that is not true to them. I liked the T shirts themselves and, if they had one in my size, would have bought one but that’s because it’s an aspect of Christopher’s life that I can identify with and understand. I guess the reason why I saw the wearing of these T shirts as a negative point can be explained by the fact that I dislike people trivialising what it means to be on the autistic spectrum and explaining away autistic traits as traits that everyone experiences at certain times (but that’s a post for another day!) It just made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

Now, onto the positives, which are many and make the show absolutely brilliant and amazing to watch.

I liked the fact that the production team use strobe lights and loud crashes and voices talking over one another at an increasing volume to illustrate to the audience, in a way that they can understand, what Christopher experiences when his senses are being overwhelmed. However, I do feel that any person on the spectrum who does have extreme sensory sensitivities (as I have mentioned before, mine are not extreme) would probably be unable to sit through the show because of those effects which would be a shame because there are so many aspects of Christopher’s life that would resonate with a lot of people on the autistic spectrum.

I thought Mike Noble, who played Christopher, portrayed someone with high functioning autism fantastically. He must have spent a long time studying autistic behaviours to be able to portray them so vividly. The constant stimming with his fingers is one example, as is twisting the tassels on his hoodies. With me, it’s constantly putting these tassels in my mouth and chewing them until they disintegrate but the reason behind it is the same in both cases-it is something to concentrate on while having to do something out of your comfort zone, such as speaking with strangers or carrying out a particularly complicated task. He also speaks incredibly literally and points out that he notices all the tiny details that most people never pick up on. Whilst not all people on the autistic spectrum will share Christopher’s traits (indeed there are some that I don’t share), a fair few of his traits will be able to be identified in the lives of other people with autistic spectrum conditions.

I also thought that his father, Ed Boone, played by Trevor Fox, was extremely realistic in his portrayal of someone bringing up a child with Aspergers as a single parent. He displayed frustration and compassion in equal measures and there was one scene where he was extremely tender towards Christopher, after Christopher had been sick down his clothes and needed to be stripped out of them. His dad explains that he needs to touch him but that it will be OK and then goes on to remove Christopher’s hoodie and T shirt with such gentle precision in order to not agitate him. My mother said that she could relate very well to Christopher’s dad, in particular, so it is a show for the parents of people with autistic spectrum conditions as well. There was one light hearted moment where Christopher is talking about his obsession with being an astronaut and his dad interrupts him, saying, “Christopher, mate, can you just give it a break, please?” That took me back to my childhood when I would talk about the same topic over and over again because I was so fascinated with it and could not understand why nobody else was until somebody would tell me to give it a rest. Another aspect that really resonated with me was when Christopher drew a face with a raised eyebrow and pointed out how it could be a sign of flirtation or that somebody finds you amusing-I understood that completely as it is so true that facial expressions mean different things in different contexts and that is why they are so hard to read accurately.

The logistics of the performance were fantastic also. Certain members of the cast passed right in front of our seats to gain access to the stage which was really good-I have never been to a show where they have done that before! The props were basic but the actions of going through doors and looking under his father’s bed were supported by people on the stage who acted as doors and held up items that were found under his father’s bed. The set itself was a depiction of how logical Christopher’s mind is with no colour other than what the cast were wearing. Christopher draws on the set with chalk to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington. Some of the seats in the audience were covered with white sheets and labelled as “Prime Number Seats” due to Christopher’s obsession with prime numbers. I was quite jealous that I wasn’t in one!

Overall, I thought the play was fantastic. Christopher is not typical of some people with Aspergers Syndrome but, as Mark Haddon himself pointed out in the programme, “I’m a little uneasy when, as occasionally happens, it is used as a textbook, and handed to policemen or social workers to give them some insight into the behaviour of people they might come across in their professional lives”. He freely admits that there are people on the autistic spectrum who cannot identify with Christopher (and I have had conversations with a couple of them about the book where they have said they hate it because the beahviour in the book is so unlike them) but points out that people assume “that there is indeed a correct representation of someone with the condition”. He does understand that Aspergers affects different people in different ways and interacts with other factors in an individual’s life to have its own unique manifestation. No two of us are the same!

To conclude, I would recommend this play to anyone but, be warned, it is highly emotional and intense viewing! I think everyone who lives with autism/Aspergers, either themselves or through a family member, friend, student etc, could probably recognise some of Christopher’s traits and begin to understand more exactly where they come from and why they occur. It is a fabulous play and I would definitely go and see it again!

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6 Responses to My review of the Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time theatre production

  1. Beverly Marsh says:

    Great to read your review Steph. I have read the book and Nick & I are going to see the theatre performance in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to it!

  2. sjmarsh2013 says:

    You’ll love it, Bev! Such a great play! xx

  3. I need to get the book for this. I remember years ago in English, we started it with our teacher but then all of a sudden, we changed to something else.

  4. Lovely review 🙂
    Wondering if you have an email address I can contact you on? Would like to offer you some Curious Incident images and content!

    Rebecca
    Editor – OfficialTheatre.com

  5. MCR says:

    They do a relaxed performance a couple of times a month, wher they reduce the lighting and the noise for people on the spectrum can also enjoy the play.

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