Tuesday 13th April 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a particularly exemplary adaptation. In the hands of Simon Stephens as adaptor and Marianne Elliott as director, it takes its source material – the brilliant best-selling novel by Mark Haddon – and transforms it for the stage in a way which is entirely enveloping. It doesn’t just adapt a story for a stage, it recognises the transformative forces of theatre as an art form in a way which surpasses the capabilities of the novel, telling a great story with theatrical precision.
We follow young Christopher Boone who as a neurodiverse child, struggles to connect with people but has a special connection with animals, from his neighbour’s pup to his pride and joy: a rat named Toby. When the neighbour’s dog, Wellington, is discovered murdered (with a garden fork no less), Christopher’s world dislodges from its axis, sending him well out of his comfort zone as he vows to identify the culprit. But, as with any good story, the central thread finds itself tangled up with others and what begins as a detective plot becomes a domestic drama too, and while Christopher’s frank exchanges and inability to filter his comments provide excellent gentle humour, there are also moving moments along the way as we are given insight into the daily challenges faced by children with neurodiversity – and their families.
David Breeds, as Christopher, is brilliant as our lead. Never leaving the stage, Breeds’ performance rests heavily on physicality as much as on what is said, communicating the anxieties of Christopher in a variety of ways, from physical ticks to crystal-clear facial reactions even when the lips are squeezed tightly shut. Most importantly, he beautifully handles the comedy which is so firmly rooted in the lack of filter often associated with autism, Asperger’s or neurodiversity – always sincere and never over-played.
This adaptation is also a great example of the strength of ensemble work – all actors are present on stage for most of the performance, poised and ready to jump in for fleeting glimpses of those Christopher interacts with. But they also work as one to conjure busy crowds or to make characters airborne. Support for Christopher arrives in the shapes of his mother (a sincere Kate Kordel) and his father (a stoic Tom Peters) who have developed strategies and carefully set boundaries. And a vital guiding force to help Christopher navigate the world is Siobhan, his teacher/therapist, played by Rebecca Root who provides a warm and nurturing safety net for an increasingly unsettled young boy.
There are big names involved with this show, and they each deliver. With Elliott at the helm, there’s a familiar blending of wit and warmth complimented by theatrical flair, while Frantic Assembly’s Movement Directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett provide extra layers to the narrative through expressive physicality and those airborne actors providing just one element of the visual spectacle used to take us inside the mind of our lead.
Bunny Christie’s designs drive the narrative forward visually through a boldly lit stage which is minimal in terms of what might be considered conventional “set” but substantial in terms of possibilities through multifunctional set pieces and large surfaces onto which projections appear throughout the performance. Video Designer Finn Ross takes us seamlessly from house to house on Christopher’s street, or from platform to destination in London – combined with the ever shifting lighting designs from Paul Constable, we’re even taken inside Christopher’s mind to give us a sense of his experiences of the world. With a team like this in place, it’s no wonder Curious Incident is the success story that it is.
There’s a good reason for this production being so celebrated (with 7 Olivier and 5 Tony Awards to its name): it’s a play with vision and heart and it’s an adaptation which elevates its source rather than merely attempting to imitate it. Many creative teams could have crafted a very good drama out of this, but this adaptation offers a sensory experience which brilliantly seeks to fully capture the experiences of a neurodiverse child going through a tough time. It’s a show which celebrates the fantastic capabilities of theatre and it’s one of the very best adaptations out there – with a performance like David Breeds’ at its core, this particular production is definitely one to see.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until April 16th 2022 and you can find your tickets here. The show then continues its tour until May 7th 2022 and you can find information about venues, dates and tickets here.