Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
January 13, 2018

Adapted from Mark Haddon’s celebrated novel of the same name, National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes to Melbourne via West End and Broadway success. That loaded the Australian premiere with a heavy weight of expectation, but it’s theatre of such insight and ingenuity that those expectations have been easily exceeded.

Presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company with a UK cast, the play surprised even before it began, as a realistic prop dog lay at the centre of the stage, skewered with a large garden fork. Its death prompts chief protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher, to play at being detective. For this autistic boy with a fiercely logical mind, finding out who killed the dog is not child’s play, however. It’s a serious puzzle to be solved and, as it turns out, the catalyst for two unexpected journeys he’s ill-equipped to take: one of emotional discovery about his parents’ relationship with him and with each other, and a physical journey to London in search of his mother.

Curious IncidentJoshua Jenkins as Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

As Christopher, Joshua Jenkins reveals the mind of this boy with a gift for mathematics far greater than most adults, who struggles with things most take for granted, such as being touched and boarding trains. It’s a remarkable portrayal of mental rigidity, frustration and wonder, not least because of Jenkins’ physical-theatre skills that border on acrobatics.

He is sensitively supported by David Michaels and Emma Beattie as Christopher’s parents, and a bright Julie Hale as his special-needs teacher. This character is an emotional guide for the boy in person and abstraction, as well as for the audience: she occasionally reads from the journal Christopher has written about the Curious Incident and its fallout, a clever device by playwright Simon Stephens in adapting Haddon’s novel. The supporting cast of six easily slip between numerous other characters, and occasionally represent physical objects Christopher interacts with, such as doors and chairs. The ensemble moves with a well-honed ease that’s particularly impressive during moments of physical theatre.

Curious IncidentEmma Beattie as Judy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Except for the eponymous dog and a model train set the boy obsessively builds through the first act, props are little more than several adaptable white boxes. In this play about a complex mind, deftly directed by Marianne Elliott, the script and performances do the heavy lifting, but the production’s key design elements are also fundamental to conveying what’s happening in that mind.

Curious IncidentJoshua Jenkins as Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Bunny Christie’s ingenious set is a black box marked with a three-dimensional Cartesian grid representing space and time. This grid is formed by LED lights which, when activated, often in tandem with other lighting, projections, sound effects, and Jenkins’ bold chalk diagrams on walls and floor, reveal Christopher’s world. It’s mostly his internal world, which can be dance-party loud and bright when he’s distressed, but one of the most technically brilliant moments of the play is the evocative representation of London’s Tube. When Christopher is on the tracks, searching for his pet rat as a train approaches, it’s alarmingly real.

Haddon apparently believed his novel couldn’t be adapted to the stage, given it is about the interior world of a boy who struggles to interact with other people. This script, production and cast not only bring The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to life; together they make must-see theatre that invites repeat viewings to better appreciate its inventive pleasures (including after the curtain call, so don’t hurry away!).


National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company at the Playhouse until February 25.

Tickets

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at Brisbane’s QPAC June 12 – 24, Canberra Theatre June 27 – July 1, Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre July 4 – 28, Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre July 31 – August 4, His Majesty’s Theatre Perth August 8 – 19. Tickets for the national tour on sale from 4pm January 19. 

Tickets