The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Theatre Group visited the New Theatre at Oxford on 23rd May to see ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ writen by Simon Stephens, based on the book by Mark Haddon.

The outing coincided with my Australian friend Libby coming to stay with us and luckily Malcolm found another ticket so that she could join us all. We had read the book but couldn’t remember the details of the story – no matter, we knew it would be an experience we could share together. The theatre was packed on a Tuesday night with young and young-at-heart people and there was a buzz of anticipation about what would unfold on stage where the silhouette of a dog lay dead, speared by a garden fork with a figure crouched over it.

There was no warning! Suddenly, flashing bright lights and loud noises screamed from all directions and you could understand why someone might cover their ears and shout “Stop!” There was no going back, we had entered that frightening world, albeit for an evening, to share Christopher Boone’s (Sam Newton) experience of solving who had killed his neighbour’s dog Wellington.

Christopher, fifteen years old, has an extraordinary brain – exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. When he falls under the suspicion of killing Mrs Shears’ dog, it takes him on a journey that upturns his world. He has what he likes to describe as “behavioural difficulties” and yet with his brilliant mathematical brain and logical processes, he never gives up his quest.

Despite the pleas from his father to mind his own business, Christopher discovers truths about his parents as his investigation progresses, causing distress for the whole family. Since he finds the irregularities and peculiarities of the English language confusing, the audience is constantly reminded of the fragility of communication in everyday situations. The metaphors of speech are strikingly obvious when Christopher is told to “Look at me when I am speaking to you” but then chided when he looks away after a second or two “You didn’t tell me how long to look at you for” he cries. The audience laughs but surely what some must be thinking is how often they have misinterpreted what others are saying or doing. It was funny, it was sad, it was fascinating, the audience was captivated.

I was captivated by Sam Newton’s portrayal of Christopher. For this brilliant young graduate, it was a debut major role and I wondered at the intricacies of the physical theatre that we were experiencing. How on earth does someone walk on walls supported only by another’s arms or lay cradled as if asleep, balanced on his hip with a small box as his bed? The supporting cast were outstanding and the stage and lighting were amazing. The grid like set reflected Christopher’s logical brain processes with sparks of light whizzing around to represent the impulses in his brain. When Christopher jumps down on the London underground tracks to retrieve his pet rat, the suspense created by loud beat music and steam like lighting of the approaching train, meant out hearts were in our mouths until he was hauled clear. Be careful with that metaphor ….

This play is an eye opener, and we emerged with that feeling of having experienced something very special. We talked about it all the way home and Libby and I added to the 40 years of memories we already treasure as friends.

Rosemary de Wilde