Broadway Review: ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Curious Incident review Broadway

Believe the buzz. The National Theater Production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is spectacular, like Cirque du Soleil with brains. Scribe Simon Stephens has made sensitive work of adapting Mark Haddon’s bestselling book about a high-functioning boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who learns to use his uncanny genius for math to navigate the world.  Under Marianne Elliott’s imaginative direction, a brilliant design team allows us to inhabit the boy’s consciousness on a terrifying journey that begins with the death of a dog and ends with his discovery of the power of his own mind. 

In his extraordinary debut performance, Alex Sharp (who graduated this spring from Juilliard) plays 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who lives in a suburb of London with his father (Ian Barford, in a searing performance) and attends a school for children with special needs. Christopher exhibits the behavioral traits of hyper-sensitive autistic children, including the screaming meltdowns when someone touches him. But he also has that characteristic and quite wonderful inability to tell a lie, along with a prodigious talent for mathematics that his sympathetic teacher, Siobhan (a radiant Francesca Faridany), cultivates.

Christopher literally has a mind for math. He thinks in numbers. He sees in numbers. His brain is wired to abstract numbers in a way that allows him to see the solar system — indeed, the whole universe — with great clarity. What he can’t relate to is the physical world he lives in, or the human beings he shares that world with.

Faced with the daunting task of translating Christopher’s affinity for numbers into a stageworthy idiom, inventive designers Bunny Christie (sets), Paule Constable (lighting), Finn Ross (video) and Ian Dickinson for Autograph (sound) have devised a three-sided black box divided by a network of white lines into smaller black boxes. It’s a mathematically perfect grid, but whenever the outside world intrudes, the grid splits into flying fragments of letters and numbers, and goes into unnerving convulsions of light and sound and visual projectiles.

Reality intrudes in a violent way when Christopher discovers that the next door neighbor’s dog, named Wellington, has been killed — “murdered,” he insists — with a garden pitchfork. In a show of independence, Christopher vows to find Wellington’s “murderer.”

That task turns into a major quest when he quarrels with his father, defined by Barford’s compassionate perf as someone who is not a violent man, but a man who sometimes does violent things he regrets. At which point, Christopher decides to go to London, haunted by memories of his departed mother Judy. In Enid Graham’s intensely felt perf, she’s a romantic dreamer who proves herself a good woman after all, just flawed in the same all-too-human way that her husband is flawed.

This is the moment when the entire mise-en-scene goes nuts. Christopher’s senses are bombarded by the terrifying cacophony of lights, sounds, and projections that signify civilization, and his mind is battered by the crowds of people (played by a robotically drilled ensemble) who talk and shout and scream and never stop moving.  Here’s where master of movement Steven Hoggett steps in. Working with Scott Graham for Frantic Assembly, he’s devised a surreal choreographic language for the ensemble that is straight out of 1930s Expressionism and quite eerie.

The only way Christopher manages to survive in this nightmarish world he’s blundered into is by drawing on his mathematical wits. The boy is never more endearing than when he’s applying his mathematically logical mind to a problem, like analyzing the kind of person who might kill a dog, or explaining to the vicar why there is no heaven and no God. Young Sharp is quite wonderful at such moments, his face so open and receptive to thought.

Now, with Siobhan’s voice in his head, Christopher forces himself to find the order in the disorderly world around him.  “Count the rhythm in your head like when you’re doing music,” she patiently instructs him. “Left, right, left, right.”  And in a real crisis, he can always calm himself by reciting prime numbers, all the way to infinity.

Christopher’s efforts to overcome his fears and function in the world outside his own mind put him in terrifying situations. (Case in point: he jumps onto the Underground train tracks to rescue the pet rat he brought along for company.) But when he does succeed, the designers pull out all the stops and have him navigating an escalator in mid-air, or striding sideways halfway up a wall. We, the audience, live for such moments — and damn the sentimentality.

Christopher’s identity quest would be a lot easier if he weren’t constantly being undermined by the people who inhabit the real world. His memorable line to this effect — “I find people confusing” — has rightly made it onto the show’s commemorative T-shirt.  “When people tell you what to do it is usually confusing and doesn’t make sense.”

This is, after all, a coming of age story, so it’s hardly a spoiler to say that, after tumbling all the way down to the bottom of the rabbit hole, Christopher makes it back alive — and triumphant.

 

Broadway Review: 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'

Ethel Barrymore Theater; 1018 seats; $129 top. Opened Oct. 5, 2014. Reviewed Oct. 2. Running time: TWO HOURS, 30 MIN.  

Production

A Stuart Thompson, Tim Levy for NT America, Warner Bros. Theater Ventures, Nick Starr & Chris Harper for NT Prods., Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Glass Half Full Prods., Ruth Hendel, Jon B. Platt, Prime Number Group, Scott Rudin, Triple Play Broadway, and the Shubert Organization presentation of the National Theater production of a play in two acts by Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon.

Creative

Directed by Marianne Elliott. Set & costumes, Bunny Christie; lighting, Paule Constable; video, Finn Ross; choreography, Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly; music, Adrian Sutton, sound, Ian Dickinson for Autograph; hair & wigs, David Brian Brown; production stage manager, Kristen Harris.

Cast

Alex Sharp, Francesca Faridany, Ian Barford, Enid Graham.

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  1. George Badger says:

    Just saw this in SF. Incredibly powerful story about the coming of age for a young man with special needs. The whole production from the staff to actors was top notch.

    The language is really no different than anyone could encounter in a real world situation. Yes, there was profanity but it was placed where one might expect it.

  2. Sue jones says:

    I thought this was supposed to be kid friendly but was appalled at the language when I took my granddaughter

  3. Billy London says:

    New London West End cast photographs June 2015
    The new West End cast is led by Sion Daniel Young as Christopher Boone. He is joined by Rebecca Lacey as Siobhan, Nicolas Tennant as Ed, Mary Stockley as Judy, Jacqueline Clarke as Mrs Alexander, Indra Ové as Mrs Shears, Stephen Beckett as Roger Shears, Matthew Trevannion as Mr Thompson, Pearl Mackie as No. 40/Punk Girl, Sean McKenzie as Reverend Peters and Kaffe Keating plays alternate Christopher. They are joined by Mark Rawlings, Penelope McGhie, Naomi Said and Simon Victor.
    https://www.londontheatre1.com/news/108677/production-images-for-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/

  4. Patty Kinnaman says:

    This is a BIG story about “The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time”.

    I strongly suggest you read the comments here about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Broadway and possibly start your own conversation about it on Variety. ‪#‎Ablism‬ Feel free to reach out to ASAN or anyone autistic advocate.

  5. notapennylessnotapennymore says:

    Saw it on Saturday. Awesome. On the edge of my seat. Fabulous production. Acting suburb. Christopher is never off stage. Keeps up the intensity of the performance for the whole show and afterwards. Usher staff, however, something else: Officious, discourteous, full of themselves. Never a please or thank you. Barking orders, pointing at people. Sat in the mezzanine. Treated like baggage. I don’t care if the Barrymore theater hosts the Tony best play. I will never go the the Barrymore theater again. I refuse to be treated like dirt, just because I’m in the mezzanine.

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