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. 🙂 )

by Emily, posted on 29 August 2012

The most curious aspect of this play was not what happened to the dog in the night-time (you find that out halfway through). No, what was truly curious about this play was how it presented the treatment of people with what Christopher terms ‘Behavioural Problems’. This play is from the perspective of a teenager with Aspergers Syndrome and gives the audience a chance to see how such mental disabilities affect not only the person, but all those around them. From the overbearing father who shows the strain through physical violence, to the absent mother who struggles with depression, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ is drowning in issues that are silent in our society.

It was not a play about Christopher, but a play about everyone around Christopher; his teachers, his parents, his neighbours and even complete strangers. In order to effectively show these reactions, a strong ensemble cast was needed and the play without a doubt succeeded in this.

Luke Treadaway as Christopher, the young man with Aspergers, was a delight to watch. His grasp of the social disorder was moving and his performance was a complete juxtaposition; his rendition of a lack of emotional understanding was in itself incredibly emotional. He truly encompassed the character of Christopher. It must have been incredibly difficult to portray something that you can’t understand, but I thought he pulled it off with a panache and class that older and more veteran actors would not have been able to emulate.

Paul Ritter as the father was another moving performance. I found myself constantly battling over whether to empathise with the father or not and this, I feel, gives credit to Paul’s characterisation. The father’s fits of anger at Christopher were heartbreaking and I found it incredibly hard to watch as you are fully aware that Christopher just doesn’t understand what is happening. However, through other characters, particularly the mother, we become aware that the father has actually been an anchor for the young Christopher and, at the end of the play, it was difficult to stay mad with his present to Christopher of a puppy. That’s right, a real live puppy on stage. A very cute touch that had the entire audience cooing and asking whether the puppy had a home to go to (including Nicola herself).

Una Stubbs also deserves a mention here as the friendly neighbour who tries to befriend Christopher during his investigation into the death of Wellington, the dog. Though she didn’t get a lot of time on stage, her moments with Christopher were touching and it was nice to see someone trying to break down Christopher’s social barriers and get to know him and treat him like a real human being, while the other characters tended to mollycoddle him too much, telling him he shouldn’t be out or investigating.

Finally, after all this, I come to Nicola Walker whose performance was once again outstanding, though I’m sure it comes to no-ones surprise who is reading this. Time and time again, Nicola’s portrayal manages to emotionally bewilder me. In Curious Incident, I wanted so badly to dislike the mother for abandoning Christopher, for running off and leaving him. However, Nicola’s characterisation, as usual, peels away so many layers that you find yourself unable to condemn her. At one point, she almost brought me to tears as she explained to Christopher (through reading a letter she had written aloud) what happened and why she left. The desperation, the anger and the anguish, so perfectly presented just in the way Nicola said her lines, created an incredibly moving moment where she admitted that she ran because she just couldn’t handle it.

Another touching moment for me came when Christopher was reliving a prominent memory of his mother. This moment involved Nicola on the shoulders of a few people and being revolved in mid-air, going backwards over them and landing crouched on the floor. I asked her afterwards how on earth she managed to do that in front of so many people and she replied with a smile that actually she did nothing, she just relied on the people below her to flip her. However, what made me remember this moment of the play above others wasn’t the backwards somersault but how natural the scene was between Luke and Nicola. It was like watching a real memory. It wasn’t the perfect beach moment, it was just the mother trying to get her son into the sea with her. It was entirely realistic and Nicola and Luke in this moment appeared so natural that I found myself watching Christopher and Judy, not the actors.

As the play progresses, Christopher runs away to meet his mother at her house (which involves a rather light-hearted but touching train journey performed with little props and such creativity). Judy is overwhelmed to see her son and the scenes between Nicola and Luke are, yet again, heartbreaking to watch. The audience look on as once again Judy struggles with Christopher’s disability (such as his reaction to his altered A-level plans and her attempts to hug him), but instead of running, we see the mother start to fight for her son.

Another moment to briefly pick out where Nicola truly shines is when Judy fights with the father, Ed, after being told by Christopher that he thought she was dead. Nicola once again shows her versatility as an actress, managing to hit all extremes of emotion within very few scenes.

A rather amusing comment from Nicola afterwards brings me to a final moment to mention. There were a lot of scenes that involved synchronised walking which Nicola was part of. She managed to match the rhythm of everyone else and it was a solid performance, though she admitted afterwards that during rehearsal she was always the one that was out of sync and everyone else seemed to fall into the rhythm so much more easily than she did.

There is so much more to say about this play, but I fear that it would then go on for pages and pages. I will therefore keep this conclusion short and simple. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ was an utter delight to watch. It was incredibly light-hearted at times, yet gave the audience a deeper, more serious look into how mental disorders such as autism affect everyone. I feel that Simon Stephens struck a perfect balance in his adaptation and I cannot give the play higher recommendations. If you go to watch this play just for Nicola, you will come out with so much more, not least the book itself.

Also, something to remember: stay seated after the curtain call.

Read the Book

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There is a special edition of the book to accompany the National Theatre’s production of this play.

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