Reviewed by Angela Paull
Last night we were lucky enough to see The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. The Mayflower is in the heart of the city and surrounded by several car parks (I use Grosvenor Place as it has a flat rate of £2 after 6pm). The theatre itself has a bright cheerful foyer, friendly and helpful staff, bars, sweet kiosks and a restaurant – everything you need for a good night out.
Having read, and enjoyed, the book I was intrigued as to how this would translate into a stage production. In essence it is the play of a book written by its main character, 15 year old Christopher Boone. Christopher has Asperger Syndrome and attends a special school. He has communication issues but is a mathematical genius. Some would say he has a small world – he’s never left his Swindon cul-de-sac on his own before and enjoys a very narrow range of interests – an unlikely author if ever there was one!
The play works brilliantly though. We had a seat up in the Dress Circle which gave us a fabulous view and perspective of the stage. The set is stark – black graph paper-esque walls, a small wall of light around the edges and 10 or so white cubes and that’s it. There are also only 10 actors in the production but this is very fitting given that the story is from the point of view of someone with Aspergers. Christopher has a small group of people that he trusts and sees things as black or white. There are no shades of grey and he doesn’t tell lies – his brutal honesty leads to some quite comical moments.
His story begins when he finds his neighbour’s dead dog. The dog has been murdered with a garden fork and Christopher decides to solve the mystery. The course of his investigations lead him well outside his comfort zone – he has to question other inhabitants of the cul-de-sac and discovers that he has been told a massive lie by his father. The mother that he thought was dead is in fact living in London, having left with the husband of their neighbour.
Scott Reid plays Christopher beautifully – his mannerisms and speech patterns are spot on. There are lots of very poignant silences in the play whilst he processes what he learns and retreats into those areas which give him comfort. Him and his Dad, played with the perfect mix of love yet frustration by David Michaels, contemplate the stars, galaxies and universe at one point and the silence in the theatre was such that you could hear a pin drop.
Throughout the first act, as Christopher is uncovering the truth, the stage is used to brilliant effect. He writes theories on the floor in chalk (which are replicated in lights on the wall), cupboards and drawers appear in the walls and contain components of a train track. The action flits between his investigations at home and his school life, where he is supported and understood by his teacher Siobhan, played by the excellent Lucianne McEvoy. Between these scenes, the train track is slowly built and added to before being finished in a frenzy of anger as he discovers his father’s lies. It then becomes the visual representation of the next massive stage in his life – he catches the train to London to find his mother.
The second act deals with his momentous journey to London – a scary and frightening experience as he faces many of his fears. The music at this point feels loud and chaotic and gives the audience a representation of Christopher’s fears and anxieties. He relies on recitation of his favourite mathematical formulas and prime numbers to calm him but manages to find his Mother, Judy. She then has to reconcile her new life with the surprise appearance of her son whilst processing the news that her letters to him had been hidden. Emma Beattie, as Judy, is wholly believable as a woman who doesn’t quite know how best to handle the challenges that Christopher presents yet desperately loves him and wants to make the best decisions for him.
Amongst all this upheaval Christopher is also offered the opportunity of sitting a maths A level and has to balance his desire to take on this challenge whilst making sense of his fractured family life. He knows that the passing of this exam would open up lots of educational opportunities for him. The second act is quite heavy going at times but lifted beautifully by a brief appearance from possibly the cutest puppy in the world!
There is an awful lot going on in this play – yes it is about an “outsider” but also deals with some of the oldest themes of all – family, crime, social commentary. The difference is in the perspective and you leave the theatre with a lot to think about. Visually it is stunning – the set is absolutely integral to the production but the way the actors fluidly move around the stage means that they almost give Christopher the sense of weightlessness at times.
A really excellent production which I highly recommend. I also urge people not to leave as soon as they think the play is over – stick around for a dynamic explanation of Pythagoras’ Theorem!
Tickets cost from £20.50 to £37.50 (booking fees may apply).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from 27 March to 1 April 2017. For more information or to book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811