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August 5, 2012 6:15 pm
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the tale of a boy with “behavioural problems” who tries to be a detective. Christopher Boone is supreme at science and maths, he likes “machines, computers and outer space”, he loves prime numbers. Humans, by contrast, are not to be trusted. They lie. Christopher “can’t tell lies” and he hates to be touched. He sets out to solve the murder of his neighbour’s dog and he records his investigation in a book – a book which is now a play.
This immensely popular novel has been adapted by Simon Stephens for the National Theatre. It is performed in the round by a cast of 10 actors on a set that is like a map of Christopher’s mind: whizzing with keywords and numbers, galaxies, equations and a beautiful train-set. Stephens’ adaptation is faithful and slick; his dialogue highly naturalistic (some is so naturalistic it almost grinds to a halt). The approach is consciously theatrical and very physical. Events pop up on stage as they pop into Christopher’s head and electronic sounds and video projections illustrate Christopher’s neurological hyper-computations. Marianne Elliott’s direction is dynamic and stylish, if faintly congested. The show is mime-heavy, for instance: often it works – Christopher the astronaut – but often it feels superfluous – Christopher looking in the fridge.
Haddon has said that his book is “not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us”. For this to be true – viscerally true – the audience must be able to project themselves on to Christopher. Yet while Haddon leaves holes in his narrator’s appearance on the page, on stage we are confronted with an actor – Luke Treadaway, in this case, dressed in a blue hoody, grey tracksuit bottoms and red socks. Naturally, those holes are filled in – and with a certain skill – but they are filled in too boldly. Treadaway’s performance is busy: he over-enunciates, jutting out his lower lip and, just occasionally, he teeters on the edge of parody. Christopher’s insoluble sense of logic is replaced with priggishness; his wondrous, hopeless clarity is muddied.
Consequently these epic adventures are followed through the eyes of peripheral characters. Christopher is a delusional curio, his awesome inner world is spied at a distance. And it’s not “about us”.
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