Nuanced portrayal of a young outsider
SIMON Stephens’s play The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, based upon the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon, has, in a little over four years, become a huge international success.
As shown by the sell-out crowd for Wednesday’s performance in Edinburgh – part of a UK tour that takes in Aberdeen and Glasgow later in the year – the show has the virtue of attracting large numbers of young people to the theatre.
It isn’t difficult to see the attraction of the National Theatre’s production for adolescents and late-teenagers, in particular. The chief protagonist, Christopher Boone, is a brilliant mathematician in his mid-teens who suffers from a behavioural disorder. He has been plunged into profound confusion and anxiety by the seeming death of his mother and the brutal killing of his neighbour’s dog.
Much has been made of Christopher (who has a pronounced capacity with numbers, a distrust of fiction and a dislike of being touched) seeming to suffer from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This, despite Haddon’s insistence that he is no expert on ASD and that he wrote the character more broadly as a metaphor for the many young people who feel themselves to be square pegs who do not fit into the round holes society seems to have allocated to them.
This makes the casting of the lead role absolutely crucial. Director (and creator of the original 2012 production) Marianne Elliot has been fortunate to secure the services of excellent young Scottish actor Scott Reid, who shares the part with his English counterpart Sam Newton on this extensive tour.
Reid, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is best known for his hilarious playing of Methadone Mick, the latest addition to the cast of TV comedy Still Game. However, as anyone who has followed his stage career will testify, he is a tremendously accomplished actor with an impressive emotional and psychological range.
Reid brings that range to bear in every aspect of this portrayal. Whether it is the Wiltshire teenager’s obsessive, sometimes comic detective work over the murder of the dog or his terrible disorientation when he arrives in London, the actor’s clever, nuanced playing embodies Christopher in all his fear, anguish, bewilderment, innocence and intelligence.
Elliot’s production itself is slick and handsome, thanks in no small part to the projection of smart graphics onto a set that is inspired by the central character’s penchant for mathematics. The supporting cast, which includes the superb Lucianne McEvoy as Christopher’s adored school mentor Siobhan, also impresses.
However, one can’t help but feel that there is a certain amount of hyperbole in the rave reviews for this production, led by the critics in London and New York. There is an element of bells and whistles about this staging, which grates against the power of Haddon’s narrative and the subtleties of Stephens’ script.
The choreography of Frantic Assembly’s Steven Hoggett tends to be overly literal and at times descends into an inadvertent parody of the mime of Marcel Marceau. The electronic stage effects also become more self-consciously “spectacular” in the second half than the story requires. Ultimately, it is Haddon and Stephens’s portrait of Christopher, and the rendering of him by Reid, rather than the effects, that account for the success of this play. For tour details, visit: www.curiousonstage.com/tour