BEST ACTOR - OLIVIER AWARDS - NOMINATIONS
Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss
James McAvoy – Macbeth
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night
Rafe Spall – Constellations
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Like many other readers, I was blown away by the originality, humour and compassionate insight of Mark Haddon’s novel about a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Haddon in fact dislikes the Asperger’s tag that appeared on the cover of his book when it was first published, and prefers Christopher Boone’s own description of himself as “someone whhas Behavioural Problems.”
When I heard that Simon Stephens was going to turn this unusual novel into a play at the National Theatre, I feared he in turn would be floored by “adaptation” problems, but in fact the show proved a big hit last summer and Marianne Elliott’s beautiful, ingenious and deeply-felt production has now transferred triumphantly to the West End.
The show manages to be theatrical while remaining entirely true to the spirit of the book. The dramatic conceit is that Christopher’s warm-hearted teacher at his special needs school, reads the book he writes about his attempts to solve the mystery of a dog that was brutally killed in a neighbour’s garden, and decides to stage it as a play. That may sound cumbersome but it works superbly and the production’s mixture of narrative and acted scenes often put me in mind of the RSC’s gloriously inventive production of Nicholas Nickleby which also featured a troubled child, Smike.
What makes the production even more special is Luke Treadaway’s astonishing performance as the 15-year old Christopher. He is unbearably poignant in moments of distress when he kneels with his face on the ground and moans, but also movingly captures the character’s courage, his brilliance at mathematics, and his startling perspectives on the world. His character can’t bear to be touched - he only allows the most fleeting physical contact with his parents, in which upraised palms briefly connect - and he has a host of other quirks, enthusiasm and dislikes.
There are dramatic moments here that are almost too painful to watch, not least when Christopher tries to block out his knowledge of cruel parental bad faith by playing fixatedly with his model train set.
The play is staged in a versatile black box with clever use of projections to create different locations and key images. These range from the mathematical formulae in which Christopher excels to his terrifying experiences aboard a train and then the London Underground as he goes in search of his mother. The scene in which he jumps down onto the Tube tracks to try to rescue his beloved pet rat Toby is almost unbearably suspenseful.
But by the end, thanks to Treadaway’s pained honesty and twitchy awkwardness, as well as his moments of exultant joy, Christopher Boone feels like both a hero and a friend, though the happy ending is rightly qualified.
There are a host of excellent and often comic supporting performances, with especially fine work from Sean Gleason as the anguished father who loves his son but hurts him terribly, and Niamh Cusack as the kindly teacher. But it is Treadaway - raw and ultimately ecstatic - who makes the evening so extraordinary."
By Charles Spencer
Wednesday 13 Mar 2013
5 Stars - Simon Stephens’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling 2003 novel proves a resounding – if surprising – success, says Tim Walker
It is only normally at the very end of life or at the very beginning when we can be completely honest. At those two extremes, the sort of things that make the rest of us bite our lips – mortgages, social mores, office and family politics – just don’t seem to matter.
Autistic people, however, are always inclined to say precisely what is on their minds, which can lead to conversations that are either disconcerting or delightful, depending on whether they stray into territories that you really rather they wouldn’t. Certainly, they’re never much good at smalltalk.
Still, there is, as Keats used to say, a beauty in truth, and it shines out in everything that Luke Treadaway’s Christopher Boone has to say in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. “I can’t tell lies,” the lad says, almost apologetically, as if it were a curse. He is very precise – he’s “15 years, three months and three days old” – and always compulsively logical.
He notices everything, too: even the red leaf attached to the shoe of the policeman who comes to investigate the strange death of a neighbour’s dog. The event proves a catalyst for change in the lives of Christopher and his parents (played with gritty realism by Seán Gleeson and Holly Aird).
Mark Haddon’s bestselling 2003 novel always seemed to me to be an all-but-unstageable story. But Marianne Elliott – who made such a success out of the equally unstageable War Horse at the National – has now managed to pull off the same miracle with Simon Stephens’s stage adaptation, which now makes a triumphant West End transfer.
The designer Bunny Christie helps to make so many of the book’s intangible themes become tangible. She affords the audience a glimpse into the remorseless logic and Narnia-like wonders of Christopher’s brain, with the complex mathematical patterns and straight lines she forms out of the myriad lights that illuminate the three sides of the stage.
It is raw, compelling, and often very painful, theatre. Christopher’s analysis of his mother’s extra-marital affair is horrifyingly forensic. His trip to London to see her after she walks out is harrowingly enacted: there is a nightmarish scene on the Underground as the vulnerable boy scurries about the track to try to recapture his pet rat.
A lot of actors impress, but precious few can make an audience care about them. Treadaway, however, manages this to devastating effect.
The great irony of the piece – and it is what makes it so satisfying – is that the individual that society deems not to be right in the head proves to be the beacon that illuminates the manifest inadequacies of all those around him.
“It’s bloody hard telling the truth,” his father tells him at one point. Oddness is always in the eye of the beholder."
Ben Brantley reviews #curiousincident for the New York Times.
LONDON — You need blinkers to navigate a big city, something to screen out the teeming surplus of ambient sights and sounds. Christopher Boone — the 15-year-old hero of the thrillingly staged adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the Apollo Theater — has no such apparatus at all. And on his first day in London, it’s a lack that threatens to pulverize him.
Us too. As directed by Marianne Elliott, working with an inspired set of designers, Christopher’s maiden voyage into an alien metropolis becomes a virtuoso study in sensory overload. Those lights, noises, street signs, road maps, random words that spell themselves into being, and, oh yes, that moving staircase that materializes out of nowhere: it all keeps coming at you, to the point that you expect your mind to give up and shut down.
It doesn’t of course. Nor does Christopher’s, though the drenched, rigid form of Luke Treadaway, the sensitive actor playing him, shows how much the experience has drained him. You’ll find your own muscles tightening in sympathy, and you may feel a need to check your pulse.
How could it be otherwise? Christopher, who suffers from a disorder that would appear to be Asperger’s syndrome, finds it hard enough to process the events of an afternoon at home in the town of Swindon. He’d be better off in outer space, which would at least be quiet, than in London.
The extraordinary accomplishment of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which opened in the West End on Tuesday night after a hot-ticket run at the National Theater last year, is that it forces you to look at the world through Christopher’s order-seeking eyes. In doing so you’re likely to reconsider the dauntless battle your own mind is always waging against the onslaught of stimuli that is life.
Scary, isn’t it? Exhilarating too. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel of 2003, “Dog” turns daily existence into a perilous trek into the unknown, which of course it is. The difference is that Christopher sees this with an acuity that hurts, and we’re allowed to feel his pain. Strange to think that this vicarious exercise in disorientation may be the most entertaining family drama since the stage version of “War Horse” galloped into international renown several years ago.
“Dog” shares part of the pedigree of “War Horse,” the story of a boy and his horse during World War I, which was also first staged at the National Theater under the direction of Ms. Elliott (and Tom Morris), with Mr. Treadaway as the leading lad. The principal flaws of “Dog” are also like those of “War Horse.” Both shows are too long in the telling, and their sentimentality can on occasion slide into cuteness or, worse, condescension.
But “Dog” is also like “War Horse” in its ability to create a theatrical world that somehow feels more lifelike than life itself. In “War Horse” it was the title character and his equine peers, giant puppets summoned into being before our eyes, that were the source of that magical transformation.
Here it’s the inspired visuals that give pulsing form to the way one person thinks. The designer Bunny Christie has created a black graph-paper box of a set that suggests provisional order imposed on infinite darkness. Objects and clothes glow in the sort of neon-bright hues that fashion editors keep vainly trying to push upon their readers but which have a very serious reason to be in this production.
The colors are part of a crucial code by which Christopher identifies familiar images and helps keep at bay the roiling strangeness of what lies beyond. A whiz at the abstractions of mathematics, Christopher has what he calls (in Mr. Haddon’s book) “Behavioral Problems.”
These are triggered whenever anyone or anything disrupts his tidy interior universe by touching him, perhaps, or speaking in metaphors. That’s when his world heaves and mutates, a process summoned by a technical team that includes Paule Constable (lighting), Finn Ross (video) and Ian Dickinson (sound).
These artists — along with the movement directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett — help create the sensory equivalent of the first-person narration of Mr. Haddon’s novel, in which Christopher sets out to solve several mysteries. These include what really happened to a dog found murdered in his neighborhood and the disappearance of his mother (a very good Holly Aird), whom his father (Sean Gleeson, first rate) tells him died two years before the play begins.
To the credit of Mr. Stephens, a probing and original dramatist (“Harper Regan,” “Port”), the plot is never less than clear, no matter what detours it takes. The ensemble, as a whole, is scary and exaggerated in just the right ways in embodying the challenges posed by the existence of others. The problem for me comes in having Siobhan (Niamh Cusack), Christopher’s special education teacher, recite the story he has written, presented as a school project.
Ms. Cusack does this with a gushy, artificial sense of wonder that you associate with grown-ups talking to small children. Though the device of Siobhan as an interpreter is retired for much of the second act, she shows up again to step outside the show and suggest that this play is a work that Christopher has made by his very own self.
Yuck. Perhaps the point here is that even the best-intentioned souls can be patronizing about the struggles of the mentally challenged. Or perhaps the show’s creators believed this tone of voice is necessary to appeal to the children in the audience. In any case it is likely to irritate anybody older than 8.
Mr. Treadaway, on the other hand, inhabits his character without distancing preciousness. He gives a lyrical, intensely physical performance that finds the poetry in the ways Christopher both stretches out and shuts down.
Since “Dog” was first published Mr. Haddon has said that he objects to the term “Asperger’s syndrome” in defining Christopher. He should be pleased that in this production his hero seems less like a case history than an extreme version of every one of us, doing our daily best to make sense of our own senses.
By Ben Brantley
Wednesday March 13, 2013
This appealing and ingenious adaptation of Mark Haddon’s cult novel is lit up by Luke Treadaway’s vivid central performance. As Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old with Asperger syndrome and an unusual talent for maths, he is superb from first to last, mixing pedantic defiance with a gut-churning vulnerability.
Treadaway was tremendous when the show premiered at the National Theatre in August, and he is now even better. Marianne Elliott’s production, which then felt dazzlingly inventive, has been rejigged to fit a larger West End space with different sightlines. No longer staged in the round, it makes a freshly powerful impression.
Simon Stephens has done an expert job of translating Haddon’s writing into absorbing theatre. Instead of slavishly reproducing the book’s detail, he captures its spirit with silvery fluency. And while the depiction of Asperger syndrome is sensitive, it’s not the whole story.
Christopher is in some respects a typical teenager struggling to win independence. After his neighbour’s dog is fatally speared with a garden fork, he turns detective. His guileless approach results in moments of ripe humour, as does his aversion to lying.
The complexities and peculiarities of his worldview are expressed through Bunny Christie’s magical design. Evoking the strange algebra of Christopher’s thought processes, it allows us to see him as if from the inside. The walls are his personal storage cabinets, yet as the set is spattered with imagery it comes to resemble a genius’s laboratory.
Confronting the chaos of daily life, he is troubled by sounds, metaphors and unfriendly colours. These can cause him to shut down. But he finds solace in puzzles and in the company of animals (chiefly his pet rat Toby).
The choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly enhances our sense of Christopher’s erratic journey through the muddle of relationships. There’s strong work from Seán Gleeson as Christopher’s father, Holly Aird as his mother and Nick Sidi in half a dozen roles.
The Curious Incident is a beautiful, eloquent show about the wonders of a life that initially seems hopelessly constrained. And Treadaway is thrillingly good: I don’t think there’s a better performance right now on the London stage."
By Henry Hitchings
Wednesday 13 March 2013