In the late 1960s there was an American television programme called ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in’ which was required viewing for we college kids of the time. It was a sketch show comprising lots of catch phrases including, ‘Marshall McLuhan, what are you doing’. Marshall McLuhan was the Canadian philosopher who coined the phrase ‘The medium is the message’. If anything could prove that tenet it is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I find it difficult to envisage any other platform conveying how it feels to be the main character as effectively as the stage, especially when done as well as this.
Ostensibly the tale is of a Swindon boy who comes across the body of the dog with a garden fork stuck through it and decides to find out who killed it, but it is so much more than that. The mystery is solved in the first half leading to another question to tax the detective ability of the hero. This is not just any hero, not even a run-of-the-mill 15 year-old hero, but one who has a lot of personal problems to overcome before he can even think of cracking the crime.
Christopher John Francis Boone, played by the incredible David Breeds, is a mathematical genius about to take his A Level exam well before the other pupils at his school but he suffers from autism, meaning that he has trouble interacting in a conventional manner. He lives a life totally devoid of nuance so everything is treated literally, even metaphors. This also makes him incapable of telling lies.
The gist of the story is that, whilst deducing who killed Wellington, Mrs Shears’s dog, his prime suspect is his own father, Ed, Tom Peters. Christopher has meticulously annotated all his evidence in a ring binder which Ed has taken from him and hidden. The motive for the murder was that Christopher’s mother, Judy, had been having an affair with Roger Shears and this was his way of exacting revenge. Judy is now dead and the strain of bringing Christopher up alone has taken its toll.
The next twist is that Christopher discovers where Ed has hidden the book, along with a batch of letters addressed to him from his mother, bearing London postmarks dated from after her death. It transpires that Ed has lied to him and Judy, Kate Kordel, is alive and well, living with her boyfriend in the capital.
Christopher, who has never ventured beyond his street alone before, decides he will go to find her, taking his pet rat, Toby, played by Biscoff!. To complicate matters further, another symptom of his condition is that he can’t bear to be touched by anyone, making his journey on crowded trains a nightmare.
Eventually, using mathematical formulae to navigate the streets by employing a spiral route, he finds Swindon Station, learns how to use the Underground and gets to his mother’s home. He has used his father’s debit card for the fares so Ed catches up with him and, finally, the three return home.
As I previously mentioned, it is not the story as much as the way it is told which is the point and this is why I feel it could only be done justice on the stage.
There is a narrator of sorts, Siobhan who is a school mentor and occasionally intervenes with any relevant information throughout the play. She was played by Rebecca Root who, sadly could not be clearly understood at times, which was a pity as some of her interplay with Chrisopher’s teacher, Mrs Alexander, Joanne Henry, was very amusing. She was not the only one whose amplification could have done with being turned up as there was a touching scene between father and son just before the interval when Ed could hardly be heard.
The set comprised a huge black box with each side divided into grids, illuminated with LEDs round each square. They also doubled as cupboards in which model buildings and a train set were kept. These were placed on the floor in times of stress. The only props were a set of white boxes which were arranged to provide whatever was necessary, one even had a pull-out handle to turn it into a wheeled suitcase.
The back and sides of the set were also used as a screen to mirror the doodles and calculations of Christopher and also on which to project images.
The overall effect of all of the above was to transport us into Christopher’s world. Actors would appear from the rear of the stalls, shouting on their way to the stage, and others delivered some of their lines form the balcony and boxes. This disorientation was very effective, as was that caused by the loud noises and underground signs displayed on the back wall of the stage which were made to look overpowering and confusing.
I found the movement of the characters to be as superbly executed as their acting. In one scene they supported Christopher while he walked round the wall as if in space, but the most breathtaking was when Toby escaped from his cage and ran onto the tube track. Christopher, not realising that the middle rail was live, jumped down after him and scurried back and forth on hands and knees, seemingly turning on a sixpence.
The choreography also came into its own at the changes of scene when the lights would go out altogether for only a couple of seconds but in that time the cast had relocated to the other side of the stage.
I found this to be a very stimulating evening with all of my senses and emotions activated giving me an experience I could not have gained from any other form of presentation. I think you might be on to something Mr McLuhan!
There was no programme available on the night so I took a couple of photographs of the list of cast and creatives displayed in the foyer and attached them below.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time runs until Saturday 16th April. For more details and to book, please go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-2/
All photographs from the show by Brinkhoff – Moegenburg