The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: a review

Running at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End, the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s acclaimed novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has won seven Olivier Awards. With one of these Awards being for Best Play in 2013, the book becoming a GCSE set text, and having had four different people tell me how much they loved it, the pressure to like the show was strong. Being a fan of the novel, I too willed myself to like it and attempted putting on some rose tinted glasses. Thankfully, they weren’t necessary.

Book within a book (Inception style)

Narrated by Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, the performance is a brilliant adaptation of Haddon’s work. Reading us snippets of Christopher’s book which recounts his detective findings is a nod to the book within a book structure that made the novel something different. As Siobhan suggests making a play out of the Christopher’s book, it is a tongue in cheek recognition of the audience’s presence, which is made humorously ironic when Christopher (played by Graham Butler) says he doesn’t like acting since it’s a “sort of lie”.

When Christopher wants to tell us exactly how to solve a maths question, Siobhan suggests revealing it after the curtain call (so those bored by maths need not listen), and true to his promise, he does.

A clever way of staying true to what made the novel so appealing, and an effective way to allowing us to understand how Christopher sees things. Christopher’s character, though, is conveyed even more strongly through every other medium possible. Lighting, set, music and, of course, Butler’s performance. 

A strong sense of Christopher’s character

Butler’s portrayal of protagonist Christopher Boone is mesmerising and effortless. Body language, the way he speaks and what he says contributes in every way to the audience’s understanding of his personality and outlook. Blunt, logical and immediately likeable, getting an insight into Christopher’s world is extraordinarily easy. With candid and comedic one liners to him groaning on the floor when he is overwhelmed, character is conveyed in abundance and it is only strengthened through the stage itself.

The floor is a mathematical grid, a way for us envision the suspects around the murder of his neighbour’s dog. The outline of the dog stays on the floor throughout the play, rarely disappearing. Though really, the dog is simply a way for us to learn about Christopher. The walls become covered with letters and numbers, and the music becomes an uncomfortable crescendo when the situation becomes too much, and so the audience feel overwhelmed too. It is the closest an audience can come to stepping inside a character’s head. 

Humorous, thought-provoking an uplifting  

Thoroughly humorous, not just because of Butler’s delivery but also the characters of Mrs Alexander and Christopher’s headmistress, means serious themes are lightened. Christopher’s imitation of Mrs Alexander’s way of saying Battenberg, and clarifying the dog was killed with a garden fork provides just the right amount of comedy.

Together with this is a more serious depiction of the importance of understanding what it means to have a different outlook and a different way of thinking. Our perception of the world depends very much on who we are and there is an inescapable, blunt and emotional poignancy in this adaptation by Simon Stephens. 

Ultimately uplifting when we learn of Christopher’s exam results at the end, he asks “does this mean I can do anything?” The audience’s silent, unanimous “yes” is not quite so imaginary.