I like going to plays. I like going to plays so much that it’s difficult to judge the quality, because I like them all.
But The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a great play. You can just tell.
Based on a best-selling book of the same name, the story begins with Christopher, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s and his quest to solve the mystery of who killed Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington. As Christopher goes around town questioning his neighbours, the audience begins to learn of his peculiarities, gaining insights to the unique way his brain views the world.
Christopher hates yellow and brown.
Christopher loves trains.
Christopher is a great mathematician, often counting up prime numbers to calm himself down.
The stage and lighting both help to bring this invitation into Christopher’s mind to life.
The stage is set out in a three-dimensional grid, and is used in a wide variety of ways throughout the narrative. When Christopher explains his thought processes, he will often draw on the stage using chalk. Additionally, when he wishes to explain how to solve a math equation, he employs the grid in order to explain, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem.
The stage also holds other secrets that are better experienced than read about, but I will say that the performing space was more immersive than I thought possible from a play. The simple space serves as a classroom, a tube station, a neighbourhood, a child’s bedroom, and the interworking’s of Christopher’s mind. I wish I could give you a better feel for how well executed all of this is, just do yourself a favour and see it in person.
As the story continues beyond the question of ‘Who Killed Wellington?’ the audience learns more about Christopher’s life at home. He has a family life that is complicated to say the least, with a father who clearly loves him, but is a man often struggling with his own demons.
These stories give the audience perspective on how Christopher’s sees the world, and turns the mirror on the audience also. There is a brilliant scene when he’s on a train to London. He explains what he sees through the window. The other passengers on the train call out what they notice passing by – a few cows, a sunset, some cottages in the distance – before turning their attention back to thinking about something else. Christopher tells us that he sees everything – he knows the exact number of cows in the field and how many of them are brown instead of black. He knows what kind of grass is in the fields and what kinds of clouds are in the sky. He knows how many houses are in the distance, and how their roofs vary from one to the other. These are not things that he is choosing to notice; in his mind, it would be impossible not to see them.
This was my favourite aspect of the play; it made me think about the way that I think, and the way that it may differ from those around me. So go see this play and find out something about yourself. It will be worth it.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time runs at the National Theatre until October 2014