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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Cottesloe)


  Luke Treadway and Niamh Cusak/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Mark Haddon’s international bestseller, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," about a 15-year-old called Christopher with “behavioural problems” (i.e. Asperger Syndrome) who, with fortitude and Olympian determination, overcomes impossible odds to become a functioning young man in a world hostile and alien to him, is both engrossing and uplifting. The National Theater’s triumphant stage adaptation, by Simon Stephens, remains faithful to the tone and content of the book while at the same time giving it a crowd-pleasing dramatic boost. The spontaneous roar of approval that greeted the play’s final line augurs well for the show’s longevity. A West End – and even Broadway – transfer must surely follow.

When the play begins, Christopher is shocked to find his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, with a garden fork plunged into its stomach. Determined to find out who killed the mutt, he sets out on a voyage of discovery in the process of which we not only learn the identity of the perp, but also, by gaining access to the rarefied world of autism, discover certain things about ourselves.

The “investigation” takes Christopher out of his comfort zone (the parameters of his daily routine having hitherto been confined to the street where he lives), culminating in a traumatic train-trip to London.

Though brilliant at mathematics, and locked into a literal world, Christopher is incapable of lying, cannot comprehend the value of metaphors, and, for pleasure, contemplates the night sky and its galaxies. He cannot bear to be touched, throws tantrums when restrained from getting his own way, and is more or less oblivious of emotion. That we care for him so profoundly and surrender so empathically to his state of mind is due as much to Stephens’ skilful adaptation as to the remarkable Luke Treadway, a brilliant young actor who inhabits the role so fully and so convincingly that, by the end of the evening, you understand just where he is coming from and, more movingly, just where he is going.

Christopher is aided in his quest for fulfillment by Siobhan, a sympathetic teacher, unsentimentally played by Niamh Cusak, who also serves as the play’s narrator – the narrative being supplied from the book Christopher sets out to write about his quest for the truth behind Wellington’s murder. In turn, he is then encouraged to adapt the book into the play we are watching. It’s a device that doesn’t entirely succeed, but it’s intriguing enough to keep you interested.

Marianne Elliot’s direction brings to the piece the same flair and panache she brought to War Horse and clearly proves, where animals are concerned, she has no equal. She is also pretty good at audience manipulation, and like War Horse, there are moments of sheer, unbridled sentimentality. No matter. The great set piece in which Christopher hot-foot’s it to London by train and then on to his final destination via the underground network is a real tour de force.

Elliot is dazzlingly abetted by Bunny Christie’s simple but imaginative set design, which in turn benefits from the National Theatre’s seemingly unlimited resources when it comes to providing playwrights and their directors with the best, most innovative, state-of-the-art visual aids available. Particularly striking are the underfoot stage effects, relying, as they do, on a complex, ever-changing lighting plot.

Though some of the minor characters are sketchy and a tad underwritten, Paul Ritter as Christopher’s father – a decent man understandably out-of-his depth as far as knowing what is best for his autistic son – is excellent.

This Dog certainly has legs. Expect it to repeat the international success of Haddon’s novel.


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