THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, Arts Club Theatre Company, September 6 - October 7
My Two Pence
By Irving Bolton
Through the Sherlockian titled "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" we are transported into Christopher Boone's documented investigation to uncover the mystery behind the untimely demise of his neighbour's poodle, Wellington. The play is a whirlwind tour through some of the social obstacles faced by persons who are considered outside the neurotypical range; whilst not explicitly stated, Christopher demonstrates traits of high functioning autism. Relationships, family and unconditional love are each challenged in Simon Stephen's stage adaption of the Mark Haddon novel: with dramatic "detecting", humorous misunderstandings and uplifting victories all exhibited through a unique perspective. This fantastic production marks a triumphant debut for the Arts Club's new artistic director, Ashlie Corcoran. The cohesiveness of each element demonstrates an attention to detail and visionary approach to stagecraft, with a highly accomplished cast, striking set design and a pace which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats for the duration of the performance.
The audience is greeted with abstract and minimalistic shapes jutting over the stage. A dancing network of particulates project the live state of the mind of Christopher onto the scenery, morphing and reacting with each event, from recalling prime numbers to emotional turmoil. The videography however was secondary to the simple but striking set, the second act brings a surprising enhancement which 'elevates' the performance, creating fantastic depth and layers to the scene.
Starring as our unusual protagonist is Daniel Doheny, whose physicality and consistency provides a solid ground for the other actors to orient around. A standout amidst the ensemble was Andew Cownden, whose fleeting moments always left the audience roaring with laughter. He managed to embody the quintessential British vulgarity which is rarely represented in media but is a more true image of the London commuter subcultures and Swindon yokels. Investment into the representation of the setting was clear, particularly from Doheny and Cownden, however there was a large disparity in the quality of the accents of the other cast members, leaving a few of the minor characters a disappointing break in the immersion of the piece.
The star of the show for me was Ghazal Azarbad who plays Siobhan, Christopher's mentor at school. The character is one of Christopher's few confidantes, and acts as a the show's de-facto narrator, quoting from Christopher's journal, and often speaks Christopher's lines, representing his inner monologue. Azarbad guides the audience through the story and is the most accessible character for us to interpret Christopher's struggles. Her performance is heartwarming and beautifully enunciated, adding richness and depth to the script. Elegant and rhythmic pacing enhanced the significance of each line that was shared or swapped, blending Siobhan and Christopher's characters into a coalesced stream of consciousness.
Todd Thomson, who plays Christopher’s father, clearly understands his character well, being true to the likeness defined in the book: acting as an emotional rock, stable and stoic on the surface. Ed Boone is ultimately a normal character trying to deliver the best life for his son. Act one's climax has Christopher overwhelmed to stillness, leaving the narrative to be led by the father. Whilst Thomson is a solid actor, his solitary presence was not quite captivating enough to deliver this intentionally uncomfortable scene with the intended effect.
Emotionally contrasting to the father is Christopher's mother, played by Jennifer Copping, who demonstrates perfectly the maternal affection and loving care for her son but with the relatable failing of self-interest. Initially Copping's sparse appearances seem unconvincing, however as her apparent coldness develops into tenderness and honest fragility the intent becomes clear. I was surprised to find myself holding back tears as the climax of the events transpired, with Copping's powerful depiction of being torn between parental love and personal obligations. This scene was a triumph: rising intensity of dialogue, a multitude of emotive props and the pure vulnerability of Christopher's mother as she tries explaining her humanness and failings in a way her son can understand. Magical.
This production left me feeling warm and fuzzy, which was a contrast to the dread and sorrow I felt after reading the book. Haddon's writing was marvellous but I struggled to enjoy it; the stark detailing creates an unnervingly truthful image of day to day life on the autism spectrum and the sobering wake left embedded in other's lives. I question whether the intent of the book is lost in prioritizing a happy ending instead the brutal rendition of just one fleeting occasion in the many of an anxiety-packed life.
Passing on stories and telling the tales of people whose perspective differs from ours is the key to understanding and acceptance in today's fear-ridden society. I highly recommend this play for all to see.