- The Forge
Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Directed by Lara Macgregor
Featuring Tim Earl
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES ADDED DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND
Fifteen-year old mathematical genius Christopher Boone sees the world differently to everyone else. He knows all the countries of the world and their capital cities, every prime number up to 7,507, he doesn’t tell lies and his favourite colours are not yellow and brown.
When the neighbour’s dog is murdered, Christopher takes the investigation into his own hands and uncovers secrets that lead him far from home and change his life forever.
Boldly reinterpreting the multiple award-winning bestselling novel, this record-breaking stage phenomenon is filled with heart, humour and wonder.
• Winner of a record seven Olivier Awards, including Best New Play 2013
• Winner 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play
• Winner 2015 Tony Award for Best Play
“a play that works on every level — crowd-pleasing, eye-opening, life-affirming and unmissable.” – Richard Zoglin, TIME Magazine
“a thing of unbridled wonder…. a show that’s as extraordinary as its hero.” – Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
Running time: Approximately 2 hours 20 minutes, including 20 minute interval
Contains coarse language, strobe lighting, loud noises and content that may disturb (recommended for ages 12+)
A Flawless Piece of Theatre
A white stage reveals the inner-workings of a beautiful mind in this flawless piece of modern theatre
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a cinematic, funny and moving play that finely balances the ambitious with the intimate and the technically dazzling with the naturalistic.
Christopher Boone (Tim Earl) is a 15-year-old boy who is excellent at maths, takes figures of speech literally and becomes extremely upset if he is touched. He perhaps has an autism spectrum condition, although the word autism is not used in the play, and he is instead presented as simply someone with a unique outlook on the world, rather than diagnosed and narrowly defined.
Christopher is stirred into action when he discovers his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, has been killed with a garden fork through the chest. Inspired by his favourite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher decides to solve the mystery. But his detective work leads him to discover shattering truths and forces him to move beyond his carefully ordered world.
This is a carefully executed play that thoughtfully combines sophisticated audio-visual effects, sensitively directed naturalistic scenes and beautiful choreography.
The play unfolds on a white floor with black grid lines and a large white backdrop that stretches the whole width and height of the stage. The large white expanse is used as a projection screen for animations and graphics that transform and animate the space.
The beautifully rendered animations, designed by Andrew Todd, visualise how Christopher views and understands the world. In one particularly effective sequence, the animation dramatically brings to life Christopher’s overwhelming anxiety, struggle and confusion as he attempts to navigate public transport in London. In another scene, the screen animates Christopher’s beautiful mind with slowly turning starfields filling the backdrop as he dreams of becoming an astronaut.
These scenes are enhanced with carefully choreographed movement that help convey the soaring and swirling flights of Christopher’s mind.
The choreography is performed by an animating chorus of cast members that sometimes represent Christopher’s inner-monologue and sometimes represent the people he meets.
But director Lara Macgregor also knows when to strip the play down and use the unadorned white space to focus our attention on the characters and emotions of a scene. The consistently strong cast step up to this challenge, offering delicately observed and naturalistic performances. Tim Earl’s sensitive and realistic portrayal of Christopher is particularly impressive and convincing.
Moments where the technical mastery is stripped away are given a surprising power. In fact, one of the most powerful moments in the play is built around a devastatingly simple, practical and elegant staging choice that requires no digital technology for its emotional punch.
The choreography, performance and digital effects are all subtly deployed to tell the story and offer a privileged glimpse into Christopher’s mind in a cinematic and visual way.
The script also feels cinematic, with a plot that is driven solely by the central character and takes a relentlessly visual approach to characterisation and drama. It is a perfect adaptation of Mark Haddon’s beautiful 2003 novel, which always felt like it wanted to burst beyond the page with its diagrams, drawings and mathematical formulas.
The Court Theatre has the budget, expertise and artistic talent to create magic. I sometimes feel that magic is deployed on undeserving shows like the piece of pink fluff that was Legally Blonde.
But Dog in the Night Time is a play that harnesses that magic for something profound and beautiful.
Thoroughly Believable Parallel Realities
A prolonged standing ovation confirms the total engagement established on opening night by this absorbing and thought provoking play – total engagement created by a rarely encountered degree of collaboration from all aspects of the theatre making. Not only is Lara Macgregor’s direction assured and illuminating, it is taken a step further by very effective movement direction from Shane Anthony and extraordinary support from the whole creative team, as well as a cast spelling out theatrical truth such as we long for.
At the centre of the novel and its adaptation for stage is fifteen year-old Christopher Boone, whose way of responding to the world around him shows that he would usually be thought of as made ‘different’ by his autism. We are, however, seeing a new truth in this play as we experience Christopher’s world from his perspective. The frustrations and misunderstandings of most of those around him are clear, but even more compelling is the desperate logic he lives by, which both compromises his daily life at home and special school and frees him from conventional ways of seeing the world.
At first his concern is to find who killed a neighbour’s dog with a garden fork and left it on the street. Before long, though, he faces the enormous and frightening challenge of getting to London alone to seek out his mother. Truths about his parents’ dealings, as well as the dog affair, are little-by-little revealed.
Helping him through the maze of sensations and demands are strategies taught him at the special school and it is through that involvement that he is able triumphantly to face his accelerated A level Mathematics paper.
Whether narrated from his own account, or presented as a play (again at the insightful suggestion of his teacher), the undeniable authenticity of Christopher’s perception, with its ironic, contrary complications, is riveting. It is also profoundly moving as the vulnerability of someone without the protection of social or dissembling skills is revealed.
His predicament is enhanced throughout by the interaction of lighting, sound, original music and brilliantly conceived AV effects, so that his mind, senses and emotions expand to fill the whole playing area. Huge credit is due to Joe Hayes, Giles Tanner, Henri Kerr an Andrew Todd respectively. Mark McEntyre’s set is a simple, fluid arrangement of panels and cubes manipulated by a deft ensemble who also become the furnishing itself when needed.
As Christopher, Tim Earl is outstanding, flawlessly conveying in his demanding role the often painful intensity of a young life inevitably isolated by the very intelligence and logic which define its being. Although he rejects both acting and metaphor as essentially untrue, Christopher registers the possibility of freedom implied by the vastness of the universe .His eventual triumph and realisation that he can find his own freedom through his own talent is powerfully stated as he realises the future it may lead to.
Peopling his world – played by Claire Dougan, Mark Wright, Serena Cotton, Margaret-Mary Hollins, Keagan Carr Fransch, Roy Snow, Matt Hudson, Kathleen Burns, and Steven Ray – are thoroughly believable folk, variously concerned, perplexed or frustrated by the whole business. Individually and together they reflect the precision and care which are the hallmarks of this highly successful production.
Movingly heart-wrenching, triumph
Excuse me a minute. My tears have smudged my notes and are making it difficult for me to write.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time revolves around a boy who cannot show his feelings, yet it draws a palpable emotional response from the audience from start to finish.
At its heart, the story of The Curious Incident is starkly simple. Christopher, a 15 year old who appears to be on the autism spectrum decides to investigate the mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog, which leads to him taking a lonely journey from Swindon to London. Beneath this straightforward plot lies a deeply complex tangle of relationships, misinformation and misunderstandings.
Christopher is unique. He doesn’t like yellow or brown, cannot tell a lie, and hates to be touched. He likes red, his pet rat Toby, and mathematical equations. He has frequent violent outbursts and sometimes wets himself. The audience is brought into Christopher’s world through his brutally honest diary which is being made into a play at his special school.
Kudos to the Court Theatre’s creative team for pulling off an amazing achievement. The set, AV effects, lighting, sound and ensemble movement give the audience insight into Christopher’s quirky thought processes. Lights swirl around the theatre, streams of prime numbers are projected across the set, and the ensemble fly about the space in representations of the maelstrom at play in Christopher’s brain. This creates a sharp contrast with the harsh realities of the outside world Christopher is trying to navigate, where every conversation is a struggle.
The use of the ensemble as human props and set pieces, aided only by a few boxes, is reminiscent of a high school production, but in the hands of such stellar talent, this basic theatrical device adds layers of complexity. When we see bodies as both the strangers surrounding Christopher as well as taking the forms of objects around him, we are reminded of his unique perspective, and forced to rethink the external alongside him.
The cast moves like clockwork, as accurate as Christopher’s ever present wristwatch. They lift and leap in smooth, seemingly effortless routines. The quality of the casting is clear in the presence of actors we are more accustomed to seeing in starring roles filling out the ensemble. Perennial crowd favourites Kathleen Burns and Roy Snow play only supporting characters, but give truth to the adage “there are no small parts…”
As Christopher’s rough-hewn father, Mark Wright gives a heart-wrenching performance. His portrayal of a flawed father is forthright and honest. The relationship between father and son is nuanced and believable.
Serena Cotton plays Christopher’s mother, a woman rocked by circumstances outside of her control. Cotton’s performance is sympathetic, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, yet ultimately holding it together out of love for her child.
Claire Dougan as teacher Siobhan guides us through the tumultuous events happening in Christopher’s external and internal worlds, reading passages from his diary aloud.
Helming the production with an outstanding performance is Tim Earl as Christopher. This is Earl’s debut on the Court Theatre main stage, and it is an absolute triumph. His sensitive performance resonates with truth.
The opening night audience gave one of the longest standing ovations I have seen. Should this happen on the night you attend, don’t be tempted to slip out before the applause finishes to be first in line for a wood fired pizza. The post curtain extra equation is worthy of another ovation.
Early Bird ticket prices are available for Mon-Thu and matinee performances in the first two weeks of the season.
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Bernard St, Addington, Christchurch . Off the Hagley Park end of Lincoln Road in Addington.
Limited free on-site parking is available during performances. There is also ample street parking nearby for evening performances. Please allow plenty of time if parking is a priority.
Box Office: Phone 963 0870
• Monday-Thursday: 9am-8.15pm
• Friday: 9am-10.30pm
• Saturday: 10am-10.30pm
• Sunday: CLOSED
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• Friday & Saturday: 6.30pm – 10:30pm
Bar Opening Hours:
• Monday & Thursday: 5.30pm – 9:30pm
• Tuesday & Wednesday: 6.30pm – 10:30pm
• Friday & Saturday: 6.30pm – 12:45am
• Latecomers may not be admitted to performances.
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Hearing Loop available, wheelchair access available throughout theatre and disabled parking by main entrance.
For 16 years we’ve been locked outside my firstborn son’s head. Sam is a boy, fast becoming a man, whose sense of the world around him is defined by his own fixed point on the autism spectrum. He can rarely conceive what’s expected of him in social situations, and by that I mean a setting as routine as a family dinner with his parents and his two brothers—let alone an environment as demanding as high school, or the adult world.
But for two hours recently, we got a glimpse at some of the chaos that might be raging in there, thanks to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time—the innovative theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 best-selling novel of the same name. The play, which was recently nominated for six Tony Awards*, came to New York from London’s National Theatre in a production directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse). It takes an immersive approach to communicating the internal state of its hero, Christopher. Like Sam, Christopher is an autistic teenage boy who’s often perplexed by the day-to-day demands of human interaction.
“People often say, ‘Be quiet,’ but they don’t tell you how long to be quiet for,” says Christopher at one point, attempting to explain the confusion he feels almost constantly. The show isn’t without humour in the way it portrays the poignancy of the missed emotional connections between Christopher and his family and the people he meets, and the line drew a healthy laugh from the audience. But for me and Sam’s mom, it lingered.
Unlike Christopher, who is rather on the voluble side for a kid on the spectrum—Haddon has stated that his book is more about cognitive differences than “any specific disorder”—Sam has been diagnosed not just with Asperger’s but also “selective mutism,” an extension of his social anxiety. If he’s uncomfortable, he gets stuck, and he won’t, or can’t, talk. When he was overwhelmed at a new school full of high-functioning extroverts two years ago, his shutdown lasted all summer.
Haddon’s book surely wouldn’t have worked with an uncommunicative main character, and it goes without saying that a theatrical adaptation would have been out of the question. Even so, for years the author considered his beloved book to be “unadaptable.” But the ingenious storytelling methods devised by Elliott, playwright Simon Stephens, and their choreographers and designers are the primary reason the show succeeds. Christopher’s anxious chatter isn’t the only window into his mind—the design elements illuminate his turmoil, too.
Long before he was diagnosed, we knew something was different about Sam. On a trip to Los Angeles just after the birth of our second son—Sam was a year and nine months old—we were stunned as we sat in a parking lot and he blurted out the letters on the sign in front of us: “S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S.” We had no idea he’d already learned the alphabet. Soon, to soothe himself to sleep, he was reciting the alphabet forward and backward. As he grew older, Sam’s stony facial expression, so characteristic to the condition, would only rarely betray any kind of emotion. But we’ve come to understand that’s a hard mask for his inner turbulence.
Seeing it imagined onstage was a revelation. Curious Incident’s creative use of visual elements is just one way the show communicates how many people on the autism spectrum experience seeing the world. Temple Grandin, the animal behaviourist and autism activist, has written extensively about her own visual thinking, stating, “My mind is similar to an Internet search engine that searches for photographs.” And Christopher might agree. “I see everything,” he says in the play.
Most people gazing out the window on a train, he states, will acknowledge the general view: the grass, the cows, the fence. Then their mind will begin to wander. But if Christopher is on that train, he’ll calculate the whole scene: 19 cows—15 of them black and white, four brown and white. Thirty-one houses visible in the village in the distance, plus one church without a spire. The landscape is highest to the northeast. It’s exhausting just hearing him describe it, but it gives some sense of what it must be like to be so attuned to minute details.
The moments in the show that focused on the parents’ frustrations were all too familiar for us. Ed, Christopher’s well-meaning, working-class dad, whips painfully between tenderness toward his child and fist-clenching fury over his inability to help him navigate the world. Ed and his estranged wife, Judy, have become trapped by their own sense of discouragement, and find it hard to imagine a more hopeful future for themselves and for Christopher.
We’ve been there—we’re forever backtracking there, it seems—with Sam. But we left the show buoyed, at least for the night. The show ends on an up note (spoiler alert): Christopher celebrates, in his own curious way, his successes.
“Does that mean I can do anything?” Christopher asks.
For the parents of a child on the spectrum, the true answer might not be the one we want. But it’s our continuing job to help Sam understand his own mind. As much as we’ve struggled, seeing such an inspired interpretation of my son’s baffling affliction gave us the gift of a necessary reminder: Sam, like Christopher, is the one trying to find his bearings at the centre of his own curious world.
From “The Play That Took Me Inside My Autistic Son’s Head” by James Sullivan
The Atlantic, April 15, 2015
* Since this article was published the play won five Tony Awards: Best Play, Best Director, Best Leading Actor in a Play, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.