The multi-award-winning stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, began the Belfast leg of its tour on Tuesday 14th October in the Grand Opera House. The play, whose run is part of the Belfast International Arts Festival, follows Christopher Boone as he embarks upon a project to solve a mystery whilst bracing the turbulent world which he inhabits.
Immediately striking due to its sparseness is the stage; all walls and the floor are black covered with a white grid. There are few props visible other than the body of a dog with a pitchfork sticking out of it. As the action begins however, the stage shows its worth; more than simply a grid covering, but rather an LED installation which flashes chaotically as Christopher approaches the body of Wellington, the dog in question. While we come to find that Christopher is hugely intelligent, he struggles to understand people and what they mean by their words and actions. As Mrs Shears questions him as to whether or not he has killed her dog Wellington, Christopher becomes agitated, screaming when she touches him; frantic lighting on all sides is employed to reflect his anxiety.
When a police officer approaches this anxiety intensifies, culminating in Christopher lashing out and striking the officer. As a result he is taken to the police station. This move in setting is signified by different areas of the floor being lit up at any number of times. Throughout the course of the two and a half hour play we will move from outside to in, from home to school, from Swindon to London. We are even taken for a trip on a train and into London’s Tube system. This is all created by with a versatile stage setting and minimal props; the use of lighting and sound in this play is hugely creative. Simon Stephens is responsible for adapting Hadden’s 2003 novel into an excellent spectacle for the theatre. The decision to employ Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, to read the narrative account of his investigations and experiences is genius. The use of this device means little of the plot is lost whilst Christopher is free to act in a non-contrived way, engaging in dialogue rather than recounting events. This allows the play to progress fluidly. At times, Siobhan will break through the third wall, leaving the stage and comically poking fun at the nature of acting the story out.
Indeed, there are many comical moments in this play. For example, when Christopher explains the universe to a minister whilst attempting to pinpoint the location of heaven or when he (quite rightly) declares that some dogs are cleverer than some people. While he may mean these assertions to be purely logical, they do garner laughter from the audience. Yet this is a fond rather than pointed laughter; Christopher’s character and nature are what make this play a heart-warming one. As we are brought into his world we face challenges along with him.
Yet whilst Christopher may be our protagonist, we also get glimpses into the lives and emotions of other characters. We see how his father and mother try to deal with his Asperger’s syndrome. We recognise the hurdles they face and must overcome in learning how to effectively deal with it. We empathise with them too as they struggle to find what is best for their son and how to build a trustworthy relationship with him. We applaud their efforts too, particularly when Ed, Christopher’s father, produces an adorable puppy as a gift to his son (although a waggly tail and a cute face helps to melt the hearts of the crowd just as much as the gesture).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play which is, like Christopher himself, immensely clever. We don’t simply watch the action unfold but are thrust into Christopher’s world and mind. With minimal props, lighting and sound is used to create environments, emotions and movement. Yet the play is far from sparse. An entire external and internal world is created; we truly do walk along his street, we too board the Tube and we too visit London. We are transported into Christopher’s external and internal worlds all without leaving our seats. Laura Shields, GiggingNI.com