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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Apollo


  Ph: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The murder site is pristine – a dead dog, of Baskervillian proportions, pinned neatly to the black floor with a gleaming garden fork. Canine carnage would, you suspect, normally be a messy business, yet its clinical presentation on stage is the first indication that the design is less concerned with reflecting the real world than about evoking a state of mind. This is true of all the best set designs, but it is particularly appropriate here since the most gripping aspect of Mark Haddon’s "The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time" is the autistic perspective of its narrator. Christopher hates being touched and doesn’t understand metaphor. He loves order, prime numbers and contemplating the expanding universe. Throughout the evening this is expressed in brilliant coups de theatre that evoke his obsessiveness at the same time as demonstrating his dazzling conceptual abilities.
Christopher, of course, would not understand if someone told him that the dead dog was in fact the elephant in the room. Even though his discovery of the body in his neighbour’s garden kick-starts the evening as a murder mystery, the answers that emerge as he investigates the killing tell him far more about his parents’ marriage than the dog itself. Simon Stephens’ zippy adaptation of Haddon’s novel conveys devastating emotions with punchy humour. Beneath the absurdities we get a strong sense of the pain endured by his mother and father as they try to deal with their teenage son. This is strongly counterbalanced by lead performer Luke Treadaway’s endearing, intelligently idiosyncratic performance, which takes us on a fascinating journey that embraces everything from altercations with the police to the logistics of smuggling a rat from Swindon to London.
Marianne Elliott is most celebrated for being one of the two co-directors of War Horse, and here she continues to demonstrate her powers as a theatrical alchemist. There’s a key moment in the book when Christopher declares, "For a long time scientists were puzzled by the fact that the sky is dark at night, even though there are billions of stars in the universe. … Then they worked out that the universe is expanding, that the stars were all rushing away from each other after the Big Bang, some of them nearly as fast as the speed of light, which is why their light never reached us." Elliott has worked with her designer, the acclaimed Bunny Christie, to make this the visual leitmotif of the evening. The whole stage is presented as black graph paper, a seemingly basic vehicle for Christopher’s calculations, which can suddenly transform into a miraculously beautiful night sky. However, the swirling stars aren’t always a thing of beauty. Sometimes they’re used to evoke Christopher’s overwhelming pain or confusion, such as when a man laughs at him as he’s conducting his investigation about the dog, or he discovers letters that should have been a secret in his father’s bedroom.
For most of the evening we experience Christopher’s story as he narrates it to his teacher in the form of a creative writing exercise. In a wonderfully empathetic performance, Niamh Cusack plays the teacher, alternating the narrative with Christopher, so that the questions she raises as she delivers his story add crucial emotional perspective. It’s yet another way in which the production refracts Christopher’s worldview, building up the layers of representation to make his strange and awkward approach to others become utterly compelling. It is theatre that changes the way that you think – briefly making this autistic savant’s world becomes infinitely more vivid than our own.


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