Having both really enjoyed the book when it first came out, the National Theatre’s charming adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time had a lot to live up to, but it didn’t disappoint me and my friend Amy when we saw it this week at the Cottesloe.
Luke Treadaway gave an astonishing performance as Christopher, the 15-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome who discovers his neighbour’s murdered dog and sets out to investigate the crime. His abrupt and persistent questioning unearths rather more than he had intended, and soon family issues are added to his case. Treadaway was believable and likeable as a boy who struggles to understand the world around him, and is in turn misunderstood by those he meets. While at times Christopher resorts to violence and physical coping mechanisms, he can also be very articulate as he explains his difficulties in coping with the chaos of the world.
The dramatisation of the novel, which was written as though by Christopher, means that there is more opportunity to empathise with those around Christopher, in particular his parents, who are struggling to cope with his behaviour. Both Nicola Walker and Paul Ritter gave nuanced depictions of parents who want the best for their son but are struggling to deal with the demands his behaviour places upon them, and are sometimes pushed over the edge (a metaphor that the very literal Christopher would struggle to understand). The distantness of Christopher from his parents makes the moments when they connect with him all the more poignant.
The staging was excellent, and encapsulated the ordered and clinical nature of Christopher’s world, as well as providing the backdrop for numerous changes of scene. The production was dynamic, and I particularly enjoyed the sequences depicting Christopher’s imaginary career as a astronaut and his foray into the threatening world of the train station. Both brought to life the way that Christopher experiences the world. In the programme, Mark Haddon provides an interesting commentary on his novel, while Marcus du Sautoy discusses Christopher’s interest in mathematics and Simon Baron-Cohen expands on the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome.
For those interested in autism, the BBC recently showed an excellent documentary on children with autism, which demonstrated the broad range of characteristics that the spectrum covers. It also gave the perspective of those around someone with autism, and further explores the effect that it can have on daily life.
The National’s production made use of the benefits that dramatisation brings, to tell Christopher’s story to the best advantage; it is a faithful adaptation that, while a different experience to reading the book, is equally as good and it has definitely inspired me to reread the novel.