As you know if you’re a follower of my theatrical adventures, I generally like to try and blog my thoughts a few days after the event. In this instance though, I’m glad I held off, because I feel that I’m now in a better position to do the experience justice and talk more effectively about the impact it had on me now a few weeks have passed! You might recall in an earlier blog of mine, I talked about how my trip to and experience of Broadway theatre in comparison to London’s West End and how my outlook was changed; the biggest consequence of the trip being that I resolved this year to see more productions that are new to me, and try to branch out into seeing more plays as well as musicals. Earlier this month, I did just that with my first visit to The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time! I read the novel when I was younger and I didn’t really connect with it at the time, but I would be honoured to revisit it now I’ve had the chance to see the play, I feel as if I have a better understanding of what the novel was trying to do which my early teen brain had been indifferent to.
Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling, multi award winning novel of the same name, the story follows fifteen year old Christopher as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s dog. Along the way, Christopher also stumbles across another discovery that turns his world upside down. The thing about Christopher is, he has an extraordinary brain with a penchant for maths, but is seemingly unable to make sense of the world in the way that an average person does; he hates certain colours, being touched, and has never ventured beyond the end of his street independently. Therein, on a deeper level the story isn’t just a simple canine whodunit, so to speak. Instead, it becomes an exploration of life and the wonder of it, and is quite simply one of the most astoundingly inventive, moving and joyously life affirming evenings I have ever spent at the theatre!
Christopher is played by Graham Butler, and Abram Rooney at particular performances. Though I have only seen Graham’s take on the role as yet, I feel the need to give a huge mention to Abram also; Christopher strikes me as an incredibly demanding role to play both physically and mentally, and I am in awe of both of them in terms of the conviction and patience it must take to get themselves into the frame of mind it must take to do this show day in, day out. Graham plays Christopher with great endearing warmth and sincerity, he commanded my attention from the very first instance we see him onstage till the very last and managed to conjure up one of the most powerful and palpable instances of an emotional connection with a character I have ever experienced; I laughed, cried and everything in between, sometimes all in one scene in quick succession! We are often told of Christopher’s thoughts through Siobhan, his mentor and para professional at school as she reads his ‘murder mystery novel’; one of my favourite scenes is when we learn about Christopher’s desire to be an astronaut and he sits amid all the constellations; The intensity and wonder on Graham’s face and in his eyes really captivated me, and throughout I felt I got a really strong sense of what it was like to see the world as Christopher sees it that never abated for an instant.
If we were to sit down in conversation about theatre in general and you were to ask me one thing I’d like to see more of, my answer would be dads. There’s plenty of talk about mothers, whether they be good, evil, stepmothers or absent altogether, but in my experience I don’t think we see or hear enough about fathers. That’s one of the things I love so much about the musical version of Billy Elliot and also here in Curious, central to the value of each story for me is the power of the father son relationship and how that can grow, change and develop in the face of certain situations. I found Curious very realistic and honest in that sense, as it shows that we don’t always get on with our parents or understand the logic behind the decisions that they make, but we are loved regardless. Ed, Christopher’s father is played by Nicholas Tennant and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Ed goes through a whole range of emotions in the course of the play, and Nicholas brings each out with ease, it’s a pleasure to watch his portrayal grow and be so versatile; he scared me a little when he was angry, and often moved me to tears in his more vulnerable, protective moments. As mentioned before, Christopher hates being touched, especially hugged. So, he prefers to touch palm to palm when showing affection, a gesture that moved and stayed with me long after the play ended. There’s a moment where Christopher has been ill and Ed has to strip off his clothes. He warns Christopher that he’ll have to touch him and proceeds to gently change his son for bed, a lovely intimate moment that made me tear up. Ed’s final scene was probably my favourite, Nicholas broke my heart! Then, things took an even more awesome turn; picture this: I’m weeping at how brilliant this man has been and what he has been saying to his son, then he brings out a puppy. What’s not to love?
Emily Joyce and Sarah Woodward play Judy & Siobhan respectively, and I felt both did a marvellous job; I found it tremendously refreshing to see a piece where I enjoyed and empathised with the female characters just as much as the men. Siobhan narrates Christopher’s story as she is reading his novel, and I really liked this approach, not only do we get to hear his thoughts, but she encourages and counsels him as the story unfolds. Sarah and Graham work really well together, and I was left with a huge smile on my face during their interactions.
Like Ed, Christopher’s mother Judy makes mistakes. Emily is able to make Judy fiercely protective and instantly human and relatable. As with Nicholas’s take on Ed, I loved how both their portrayals had depth and the fact that I wasn’t set up to prefer one or the other, I could see both sides. The scenes Nicholas & Emily share later in the play were brilliantly emotionally charged and I loved watching them interact, they both have tremendous energy and passion, so put them together and the atmosphere in the theatre changed completely; I was so engaged by both of them I was scared to adjust how I was sitting because my wheelchair is prone to squeaking and ruining the drama!
A huge special mention to an extremely tight knit, slick and talented ensemble who keep the momentum and atmosphere motoring along brilliantly!
Aside from wonderful acting, what really struck me about Curious was how inventive and clever it is. It includes Design by Bunny Christie, with Lighting Design by Paule Constable, Video Design by Finn Ross, Movement Direction by Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly, Music by Adrian Sutton, Sound Design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, all of whom come together to create a wonderful spectacle for the eyes and the ears; some of the special effects made my jaw drop, favourite probably being the set up and undertaking of Christopher’s journey to London,second only to the curtain call which has to be the most awesome I’ve seen to date!
At times it being my first visit I did find it a little overwhelming at times, but then I recalled that Christopher finds life overwhelming, and settled into it being part of what made it so special and important. Adapted by Simon Stephens with Marianne Elliot at the directing helm, I sensed that they have an incredible understanding and respect for Haddon’s novel, which radiates in all that they and the cast do. I left the theatre feeling totally inspired and uplifted in a way I don’t often experience, I was touched by Christopher’s adventures and felt like my outlook on life had changed for the better. I’m incredibly grateful to all involved for that.