National Theatre "Curious Incident": Tale Wags the Dog

        National Theatre Live HD broadcast at Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline (and other venues)

Luke Treadaway in "The Curious Tale of the Dog in the Night-Time"
(photo: Brinkhoff/Mogenburg)
London’s National Theatre’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, adapted by playwright Simon Stephens from the deservedly popular novel of the same name by Mark Haddon, was nominated for eight 2013 Olivier Awards and won seven of them, including Best New Play. It’s headed this fall to Broadway, but one can avoid the high New York ticket price by catching a screening at local theaters that offer the “National Theatre Live” series. This adaptation is faithful to Haddon’s book in its story about a fifteen-year-old, Christopher John Francis Boone (Luke Treadaway), who is autistic, and gifted with respect to what Brits call “maths”, yet fearful of interacting with people. Living in the small town of Swindon, not far from London, he finds maths to be dependable, good, safe, constant. He’s capable of literal thinking only, with no nuance or subtlety, taking everything at face value. He finds solace in “prime numbers…what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life…very logical, but you could never work out the rules."

Christopher also has a love of the night sky and Sherlock Holmes. Having discovered his neighbor’s poodle Wellington impaled on a pitch fork, and being unfairly accused of the crime, he decides to investigate the murder based on this love of Holmes’ deductive logic. His parents (Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker) have reacted in quite different ways to having a “special needs” child whom they cannot hug but merely touch, only hand to hand, to show their love. His teacher Siobhan (Niamh Cusack) encourages him to write a book, then a play, about his experiences. All four actors are brilliant, as are the other six cast members in multiple roles. There is a good deal of tension between the inventiveness of fiction and his obsession with facts, forensics and systemized data. He sees a novel or play as a metaphor. As he puts it, “the word ‘metaphor’ is a metaphor and should be called a lie.”

As noted above, this production was honored with a host of Olivier Awards, in addition to Best Play, notably Best Actor to Treadaway and Best Supporting Actress to Walker. The other Olivier Awards were given for Direction by Marianne Elliott, the wonderfully complex Set Design by Bunny Christie (as well as Projections by Finn Ross), effective Lighting Design by Paule Constable, and Sound Design by Ian Dickinson and Music by Adrian Sutton. This sad yet funny work is a stunner. In Christopher’s words, “I know I can do this; I solved The Mystery of Who Killed Wellington…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” It’s a production not to be missed.

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