September 14, 2013

The Glorious Performance of the Play in the Night-Time

             I stare cautiously at my seat, its usual velvety red shrouded by white t-shirt material. Upon further inspection, I realize that my seat has been labeled “a prime number seat” and there are several of them located around the Apollo Theatre. A prime number is a number that can only be divided evenly by one or itself, as Christopher will come to tell us later that evening. The production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time brings Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name to life. It centers around the tale of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old with Asperger Syndrome.

             The role was played by a very energetic and convincing Luke Treadaway until his last show on August 31st. I was lucky enough to catch him on one of his last nights, performing at his emotional best. The role has now been taken over by Mike Noble, along with a completely new cast. At the Olivier Awards earlier this year, Treadaway was presented with the Olivier Award for Best Actor for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, while the play itself won seven Olivier Awards. Clearly Noble will be joining a renowned project, but he will have some visibly big shoes to fill.

             Asperger Syndrome is defined as an autism spectrum disorder characterized by severe social and nonverbal communication impairments. Individuals with Asperger Syndrome also tend to like routine in their day-to-day lives. Christopher attends a special needs school, because his behavioral issues can sometimes cause him trouble and upset. He is very adept at math and logic however. The entire stage at the Apollo Theatre is set up like a giant grid, which ties in nicely to Christopher’s interests and strengths. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time follows Christopher on a journey after he finds his neighbor’s dog dead, killed by a pitchfork. He sets out on a mission to solve the mystery, but he comes to learn some uncomfortable home truths in the process.

             The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is undoubtedly a tearjerker of a play, but it definitely holds its lighter moments in Christopher’s quips and mischievous adventures. Christopher is instantly lovable in his hoodie and sweatpants, tugging on the drawstring out of habit, but the entire cast really shines. They feed off of each other’s energy and it is apparent that this play is a grueling one to commit to. In the production I saw, Seán Gleeson made for a concerned and inexhaustibly patient father to Christopher. Holly Aird, who played Christopher’s mother, portrayed frustration and misunderstanding, but the audience never doubted her love for her son.

             The stage is utilized brilliantly throughout the play. Christopher scribbles down his progress in solving the murder of his neighbor’s dog one minute and is walking down makeshift steps on the wall the next. A particularly jarring scene exists when Christopher decides to visit London (for spoiler purposes, I shall not disclose why) and he is overwhelmed by all of the people, noises, and sights. The stage lights up with imposing brand logos and slogans. Clanging music evaporates upwards into the audience, allowing us to understand why Christopher’s nerves have been grated. Living in London, I can truly appreciate the scene where Christopher attempts to figure out the tube system. Anyone who has attempted the Underground will recognize that initial feeling of dread of where to get on, where to get off, and where to go in between!

             The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time delves into some touchy issues, but the result is a highly moving performance that is unlike any other stage production I have seen before. Christopher doesn’t like to be touched, so he prefers to show affection by touching hands with someone. It is in details like this that the tenderness of the play resonates on a grander scale. After having seen the play, I am hankering to read the book, which is written from Christopher’s perspective. The play instead opts to cast Siobhan (Niamh Cusack when I attended), Christopher’s teacher, as narrator. As she reads entries from Christopher’s journal, his voice comes through with its sweet awkwardness and straightforwardness.

             During the play, Christopher is the first person from his school to take a math A-level (the equivalent of senior year of high school exams in the United States). He begins to explain to the audience how to achieve the answer to one of the equations, but is abruptly stopped by Siobhan. She suggests that not everyone regards math as interesting, but for the people who would like to stay to hear the answer after the show, they are more than welcome. It appeared that everyone stayed afterwards to witness Christopher in his element. He used all of the high-tech gizmos at his disposal to give a dynamic math lesson, to say the least.

             Geometry never was my strong point, so even if the meaning was lost on me, it didn’t change the fact that I was left with a feel good vibe. A giant smiley face appeared at the very end of the show on the stage, a perfect understatement about the audience’s euphoric mood. Rather than feeling sorry for Christopher, the play elicits looking past the label of Asperger Syndrome to see a person who deserves to be treated just like the rest of us.

             To book tickets and learn more about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, see here.

             [Author’s Note: I am pleased to report that today, October 8th, I finished reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The feat itself only took me two days in total to complete, because it is near impossible to not gobble this book up. The play does not deviate far from the plot of the novel and even manages to keep some of the more minor details, hardly skipping a beat with the dialogue either. Christopher is every bit the witty and matter-of-fact narrator I expected him to be and reading from his perspective makes the tale all the more heartwarming. Not only does author Mark Haddon spotlight a misunderstood disorder, but he broaches the subject with gentleness and light-hearted humor to really win over the reader and make the book a standout one. I can only highly recommend picking up a copy at your earliest convenience.]

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