The West End is all the better for this powerfully engaging modern classic.
The National Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has enjoyed international success, countless awards and is widely regarded as a modern classic. Adapted from Mark Haddon's book of the same name by playwright Simon Stephens, this is a prime example of theatre makers firing on all cylinders, with each department seamlessly coming together to create theatrical magic. As it continues to play at the Gielgud Theatre to packed houses, including great numbers of school groups and young people, it's easy to see why both the story, and indeed the ingenious production, has the ability to resonate so boldly with audiences of all ages.
The play is a sort of coming-of-age story for 15 year old Christopher Boone, a boy with an extraordinary brain and strong ability at maths who is ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. As he discovers his neighbour's dog dead in the garden he becomes an amateur detective, and ends up on a journey that will challenge him beyond his imagination.
To say any more than that would spoil Stephens' exceptional efforts at unfolding an emotional and dramatic narrative that is fully told from the perspective of how Christopher views modern life. What on paper seems trivial becomes a huge adventure for our protagonist, from talking to neighbours to buying a train ticket and riding the London Underground.
Marianne Elliott's production is outstanding in its efforts at combining all of the technical departments of design, lighting, sound and projection to create a hugely imaginative yet seemingly realistic world that blossoms with surprises at every turn. Bunny Christie's now iconic design allows Christopher's world to effectively come to life in front of an audience, giving a window into his perspective and challenging our own expectations on what can be achieved within a proscenium space. Combined with Paule Constable's exceptional lighting design and Finn Ross' video design, the production boasts one of the most impressive and ingenious mise-en-scène in London.
For all the technical achievements the play also packs a strong emotional punch, and the core family unit are able to explore their feelings in the most truthful and honest way possible, creating a solid heart and foundation for the rest of the production to support. Elliott's effortless direction combined by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett's outstanding movement direction draws audible gasps from the audience who are as impressed by tricks of the human body as they are from the set or projections. The ensemble cast work together to physically represent Christopher's story, setting new standards for physical theatre in the West End.
Despite numerous cast changes the production retains its vivacity with a set of strong central performances from Nicholas Tennant and Sarah Stanley as Christopher's parents, along with nuanced support from Jo Castleton, Jacqueline Clarke aided by a multi-functional and fully committed ensemble. Joseph Ayre, in his professional debut in the role of Christopher is outstanding in every respect, from his controlled and consistent manner to his physicality and mental rigidity. It's a role that demands so much from any actor, and Ayre brings an engaging and highly watchable quality to Christopher that not only drives the drama but holds the audience at a comfortable distance in order for the practical detachment to fully work.
Whilst this is a play that remains one of the staples of the West End, it's one that deserves multiple visits to continue to appreciate not only the technical creativity but the heartfelt honesty with which it is played. The West End is all the better for this powerfully engaging modern classic.
Read our 2014 review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time