the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Fan Reviews

(All reviews contain spoilers, so don’t read if you intend to go to the play and don’t want to know anything beforehand. 🙂 )

NT Relaxed Performance review by Lucy, posted on 16 October 2012

Saturday 13th October 2012 marked a unique day in the history of the National Theatre, as it put on the first ever ‘Relaxed Performance’ of a play. This type of performance is defined by the NT as being ‘aimed at anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, sensory or communication disorders, or a learning disability’.

The chosen play was ‘A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’, which of course was a very appropriate choice, as it focuses on Christopher, who, while highly intelligent, struggles to cope with (and interpret) everyday life.

I went to this matinee performance with some friends, one of whom is on the Autistic Spectrum. We had a wonderful afternoon, and a really memorable experience. We were advised that while the content of the play remained unchanged, there would be a relaxed atmosphere in the auditorium. People would be permitted to make noise during the performance, and also to come and go freely. The auditorium wouldn’t be as dark as usual, and there would possibly be subtle changes to some scenes.

I have been to a number of other performances of this play before, so it was interesting to see the difference between a “Traditional” performance and a “Relaxed Performance”. The first notable difference was that there were more children in the audience than usual, and the atmosphere was vibrant. There were also several helpers in the auditorium, who were very welcoming and on hand at all times to assist anyone. Once the play started, we noticed that the sound effects and music were slightly quieter. There was more laughter and applause throughout the play, and some movement amongst the audience. Sometimes, certain members of the audience would shout a response to the actors during a scene. However, for the most part, they were transfixed, and the more ‘relaxed’ atmosphere didn’t distract at all. It was great to be part of it.

The content of the play was indeed unchanged, with only very subtle scene alterations. For example, during the scene where Christopher (Luke Treadaway) is shining a torch on certain items close to the audience, he didn’t shine the torch too closely to anyone (which he does in the usual performance). This led to one unfortunate incident. As Luke had changed his routine on stage to compensate, he tripped over the toy train and fell! Thankfully, he was unhurt, but did manage to break the train. In a moment of great improvisation, he also managed to fix the train before setting in on it’s way at the end of the first half!

At the end of the play, there was a brief Q&A with the cast, which was lots of fun and really relaxed. The audience were invited to ask questions, so here are a few of them:

Q: How long did it take Christopher to learn his part?
A: (Luke) It took about 5 weeks to learn all my lines, the moves and all the numbers!

Q: Can you explain the set design? (The audience is on all 4 sides, as the play is ‘in the round’).
A: (Rhiannon) Reading the book, you feel very close to Christopher, so making the play ‘in the round’ adds to that, as the audience is so close. Also, no-one has anything to hide behind. It’s very open, just like Christopher.

Q: How much did the cast know about Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism etc, before they started work on the play?
A: (Howard) Not very much at all. We watched lots of DVDs and read books about it, and Luke and Niamh visited some schools.
(Luke and Niamh) Yes, we spoke to the teachers and asked lots of questions. We spent the afternoons talking to the children, which we found really helpful and great fun!

Q: What is the puppy’s real name?
A: (Howard) Funnily enough, it’s Candy, not Sandy, as she is in the play!

Then Howard asked if everyone enjoyed it, and there was a resounding “yes” with cheering and applause, and that marked the end of the Q&A.

Afterwards, we had a chat with Nicola at the stage door. She really loved being part of this kind of ‘relaxed’ production, declaring that “Theatre should always be like this!” She said that she and the cast were a bit worried that the evening performance could feel a little flat after that experience! Nicola also said that she was so impressed that the NT are doing these productions, and she would definitely attend and support them herself. We discussed that as there is a lot going on in ‘The Curious Incident,’ it’s very engaging and therefore the perfect choice for the first performance of this kind.

Nicola said that she was loving being a part of this play, and she really hopes it moves to the West End. We asked if she might move with it, and she said that she didn’t know yet, but would love to if asked!

Along with Di, Viv and Rose, Nicola said this was her favourite play to have been involved in, saying that both were such good fun to do. She doesn’t want the run of The Curious Incident to end!

We couldn’t agree more! 🙂

Many thanks again to Nicola for being so generous with her time, and chatting to us between matinee and evening performance.  It was lovely to see her reaction to being involved in this different kind of performance. She was so full of enthusiasm for it and was delighted that we were there to see it.  You could really sense just how much she enjoyed it!

Editor’s Note :

In August 2012, a couple of Nicola Walker fans went to a performance of this play. According to one member of the audience (who we shall call “Mr Grumpy”) who sat behind these fans, they were quite noisy during the first half of the play because they wondered, aloud (at least within earshot of Mr. Grumpy), when Nicola would actually appear on stage (she comes on fairly late during the first act) and when she did, whether Nicola would recognise them. Mr Grumpy posted a tweet to the effect that whilst he enjoyed the play immensely, his experience was marred by the behaviour of these “Nicola Walker loonies”.

I don’t know the identity of the “Nicola Walker loonies” but I do have a strong objection to any one describing any fan as “loony” purely on account of their enthusiasm for the work of an actor or actress. I guess it never occurred to Mr. Grumpy that one or both of the “Nicola Walker loonies” might be on the Autistic Spectrum, which would explain the inability to keep quiet in an environment where one is supposed to remain silent. It is extremely judgemental to label these fans as “loonies”, based on just fleeting observations in a theatre. Its ironic that Mr. Grumpy said that he enjoyed a play whose central theme is to ask us to be more tolerant of people who may not behave in a normal manner. I guess for him, charity does not begin at home!

I think it’s a stroke of genius on the part of the National Theatre to stage these “Relaxed Performances” and I hope that there will be more of these to come in future. At the very least, it will save people like Mr. Grumpy from having to label people as “loonies”. (I don’t know Mr. Grumpy personally. For all I know, he might be the sweetest human being in real life. In labelling him as “Mr. Grumpy”, I am as judgemental as he was towards the Nicola Walker fans. 😛 )

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