The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime presented by National Theatre Live
When I first heard this novel had been adapted for the stage, I was so curious (no pun intended) as to how they would pull this off. The story is told from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old autistic boy named Christopher, and through images and words, the book does an excellent job of putting the reader inside his head. The play attempts to do the same thing through creative staging and lighting/sound design so that the audience sees the world through Christopher’s eyes. These techniques are quite effective and within the first few minutes of the play I found myself feeling for and wanting to protect this character.
Act 1 begins with a dead dog on stage. Wellington has been impaled by a pitchfork, and Christopher stands over the dog as the neighbor (and dog owner) enters the scene. She accuses him of killing Wellington; Christopher denies but his autism prevents him from fully defending himself, and a police offer brings him to the station. For the rest of the act, Christoper decides to be a detective and figure out “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime,” or who killed Wellington.
By the end of Act 1, the crime is solved and we are knee-deep in the domestic drama of Christopher’s family. Act 2 continues with the family saga, and I started to lose interest. I wish that adapter Simon Stephens had tightened up the second half (the play runs 2:40), and perhaps shifted the interval to better balance the drama.
There are two reasons to check out this play. One is the unique stage presentation: an arena stage with a digital floor, slick movement / choreography by War Horse co-director Marianne Elliot, and projection / lighting effects to help us understand how Christopher interprets places and people. The other reason is actor Luke Treadaway in the lead role — his performance is so credible; he inhabits that world so fully, even in a post-show presentation (there is sort of a show-within-a-show) when he presents a complex math problem to the audience.
Bottom line: I am grateful that Americans have access to the wonderful theatre programming at the National Theatre via their NT Live presentations. Glad I caught this play, even if I was less thrilled with Act 2.