If you live among theatre doubters, take them to this show. Marianne Elliott’s sumptuous production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a brilliant example of just how expressive the stage can be. If only more directors and writers asked this much of the theatre; the West End would be a much richer place.
Writer Simon Stephens and director Elliott have recognised that it isn’t the story itself but the way in which the story is told that defines Mark Haddon’s original novel. The plot is solid but it’s nothing special. Instead, the master-stroke of Haddon’s novel was his first-person narrative and the way in which it allowed us access into the mind of Christopher, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. It is a curious example of style proving more substantial than substance - a trick which is repeated, to great success, in this restlessly inventive production.
The stage is configured according to Christopher’s priorities and thought processes. Finely lined graph paper covers the stage walls and floor. Streams of numbers are projected against the walls at significant moments and, when Christopher is touched (something he hates), the stage explodes with dangerous white light. Every space is delineated with clean straight lines and every object is square, as if the world was one giant game of Tetris.
All the props are abstract, accented only with the elements that Christopher might appreciate. So whilst many of the ‘grown up’ objects - microwaves or TVs – are represented by blocks, these squares are coloured and lit from within. It is the colour that Christopher cares about, so it is the colour that is emphasised on stage.
Even more revealing, there are no tangible divisions or barriers in Christopher’s world. When he walks about the streets, trying to track down the murderer of the neighbour’s dog, the houses have no walls. Christopher’s world is a without boundaries – or, at least, without divisions that he can easily recognise or understand. No wonder he hides in small spaces. No wonder he gets frightened when people cross those invisible boundaries and touch him.
There is not a jot of Luke Treadaway in Luke Treadaway’s performance. It is one of the most consuming performances I have ever seen. Every twitch, moan and flicker of the eyes adds to his interpretation. The stage might help us understand Christopher’s mindset but it’d mean nothing without Treadaway’s perfectly calibrated performance.
There is an extraordinary moment when Christopher, for all his love of order and systems and equations, opens up about his passion for astrology. Suddenly the stage, which has been so carefully divided up into linear spaces, explodes into chaotic life. The stars that fascinate Christopher are projected onto the stage and out into the audience. His imagination crashes through all those invisible boundaries and connects Christopher with us, the audience, and a world without limits.