The National Theatre is seemingly all around us nowadays -- even on a cinema screen near you, wherever in the world you might be, thanks to its NT Live initiative. But there's still nothing quite as live as seeing a show live and in person, though no one could have anticipated quite what occurred last December when an audience sat down to watch the National Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the Apollo Theatre: part of the ceiling fell in, leaving some 19 members of the audience injured.
Its resumed run at the Gielgud Theatre next door now restores a major event to the West End repertoire (while the Apollo itself has re-opened after a major refurbishment, too), and re-joins the National's transfer of War Horse in playing at the New London Theatre, that has itself been newly joined by morning and afternoon performances of the National's production of The Elephantom at the same theatre. And in September Richard Bean's Great Britain, his fast reaction to the newspaper hacking scandal that is currently playing on the South Bank, moves to the Haymarket. (Elsewhere, there is also a commercial revival of David Hare's Skylight, a play that was originally premiered at the National).
This makes the National unquestionably our single most important provider of new plays in London. And Curious Incident, based on Mark Haddon's novel of the same name, remains easily the best contemporary drama in London, a play of acute feeling about a young boy who feels things very acutely.
It left me reeling all over again as I saw it again for the third time. Though it's impossible to replicate the original surprise and daring you experience the first time you see it, repeated viewings reveal just how clever and spellbinding this theatricalisation is. It takes you inside Christopher's head to see the world through his eyes, perspectives and feelings.
Graham Butler's intentionally remote yet heartbreakingly vulnerable performance as Christopher pierces the heart as he embarks on a journey first to find out who killed a neighbour's dog, then to find his mother whom his father had told him had died, but in fact had left the family home in Swindon to live in London with her lover.
Marianne Elliott, who also co-directed War Horse, is one of our very best directors, marshalling a full range of video, movement and sound resources to provide an astonishingly bold, intimate yet expansive storytelling that brilliantly brings Christopher's odd obsessions and damaged family life to alternately wounding and wondrous life.
A supporting cast that includes Sarah Woodward as his schoolteacher, Gay Soper as a kindly neighbour, Nicolas Tennant as his father and Emily Joyce as his estranged mother are also uniformly superb.
This is unmissable theatre - a modern classic.
Read our previous review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time