Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – until 25 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the UK National Theatre’s celebrated, award-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel, is back at the Festival Theatre until Saturday, and remains a beautifully staged, complex piece. Simon Shepherd’s adaptation of the story of Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old who has problems with understanding metaphors, gauging other people’s moods and the colour brown, is remarkably faithful to the original – even to the point of representing the book’s appendix on stage.
The portrayal of how maths whizz Christopher attempts to solve the mystery of the killing of a neighbourhood dog, instead discovering buried secrets about those around him, continues to thrill audiences with its combination of thoroughly involving story-telling and impressive visual effects. However, it is not quite the all-conquering five-star show it may have been previously. Perhaps it is beginning to show its age – updating date references to 2016 doesn’t quite cut the mustard in a story that was clearly written when mobiles were relatively rare, for example – but there are a couple of problems.
The first is in the character of Christopher himself. There is no doubt that he is brilliantly played by Scott Reid, who is on stage throughout and on this showing will soon be known for a great deal more than Still Game. It is well known, however, that Haddon was annoyed that the publishers used the phrase ‘Asperger Syndrome’ on the cover of the book when the narrative itself confines its description to ‘Behavioural Problems.’
Seeing the character in front of you is markedly different from reading a novel told from his point of view; leaving aside the debate that rumbles on regarding how fair the characterisation is, or how much research had been done (and this is a more immediate problem in a dramatisation, particularly regarding his violent outbursts) it does also affect the storytelling.
In a book with an unreliable narrator such as Christopher – who never lies, but fails to recognise the importance of much that he sees – the reader pieces the true story for themselves long before he does. Here, the audience sees that truth in front of them, meaning that they realise things either much earlier or later than the action really requires. This has an unbalancing effect, as does the two-act structure; the second half, largely in London, seems too long, however impressive the flashing lights, words and white noise that mirror the sensory overload of Christopher’s journey.
The production, moreover, relies on two disparate methods of telling the story. Christopher’s narrative is largely shared between him and his teacher Siobhan. Once again, the acting is tremendous, thanks to the excellent Lucianne McEvoy, but it does mean that it becomes too much tell and not enough show, with some of the supporting characters reduced to grotesques.
Alongside this is the beautifully drilled, almost balletic movement of the cast in some superbly realised physical sequences, with Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s movement direction outstanding; while both elements work, there is an odd disjunct between them.
When the emotion is most realistically portrayed is when the effect is strongest; Emma Beattie, as Christopher’s mother, and David Michaels, as his father, are both heartbreakingly real and complicated, with wordless moments they both share with their son being particularly strong. The strength of these episodes contrasts neatly with some lighter, meta-theatrical ‘but this is a play’ moments that thankfully are used sparingly.
Any of the nagging doubts expressed earlier can easily be swept away in the feast of sound, light and movement conjured up by director Marianne Elliott, with Bunny Christie’s design and Paula Constable’s lighting worth the price of a ticket on their own. What is most heartening is that the constant parade of school parties that are attending the tour, will not see the flat, ‘will this do?’ approach taken by so many touring adaptations of set texts, but will rather see something that is so resolutely theatrical.