|Theatrical Cuts: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime review (NT Live)|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Wednesday, 05 September 2012 18:22|
Photo borrowed from Manuel Harlan / National Theatre
I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of reviewing plays currently around in London that feature some of my favourite movie actors. Zach Braff’s All New People, the incredible Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd, Keira Knightley in The Children’s Hour. It doesn’t sound that relevant to a film blog, but in this modern age of digital theatre, the boundary between stage and screen is increasingly blurred – I geeked out over this brilliant hybrid format at Little White Lies a while ago. And now even the Globe Theatre is getting in on the cinema game with a string of broadcasts this September.
But chief of it all remains NT Live, the National Theatre’s excellent scheme, now in its goodness-knows-what year. The latest stage show to move from the South Bank to the cinema? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which NT Live is broadcasting around the UK on Thursday 6th September. So here's a review of that.
Adapted by Simon Stephens, Mark Haddon’s now-seminal text isn’t the kind of book you can imagine working on stage. A first-person account of an autistic boy’s journey to work out why the neighbour’s dog died, it’s the kind of unreliable narration that belongs on the page. Even the book’s chapters are in prime numbers, because Christopher likes them so much.
But Stephens’ novel treatment takes a bold approach right from the start – a sudden lights-up that reveals the poor titular creature in the middle of the stage.
A few seconds later and we’re watching Christopher explain everything to the audience, while drawing a perfect circle on the floor with chalk. He does that a lot. The drawing. And it’s uncannily precise, something helped, you suspect, by the fact that the entire stage is a piece of graph paper.
Yep. Graph paper. It’s the first of many masterstrokes from director Marianne Elliot, who plays on geometry and space with all the excitement of her young protagonist. Houses become squares on the floor; tube stations open up smoke-filled chasms in the room; model trains appear from hidden tunnels without warning; even the prime numbered seats in the auditorium are clearly labeled for eager maths fans.
And in the middle of it all, the cast provides the props, leaning, carrying and spinning alongside Christopher in a flurry of choreographed movement; physical theatre in the very best sense of the word. In short, the production design is the most impressive you’ll see this year – if not this decade.
How will NT Live capture that on screen? They’ll be helped, I think, by the nature of the performance: staged in the round, the agile ensemble is watchable from any angle. And, for more chaotic moments, a camera suspended from above should offer a jaw-dropping birds-eye view as the lines of action spread out across the graph.
The music is suitably balanced too. Adrian Sutton’s symphonic techno is intrusive when its needed and gentle when its not; the kind of thing that builds an atmosphere in a room, whether it’s a theatre or a cinema.
Have a listen to Adrian Sutton’s The Curious Incident score here:
But it’s not just technical prowess on show: Stephens, who wittily turns the book into a play within with a play (don’t worry – in a good way), takes care to keep the tale’s emotion in tact.
As the 15 year old, Luke Treadaway (Attack the Block, St George’s Day, You Instead) is his usual impeccable self, vulnerable but boisterous, timid yet stubborn. He recites prime numbers with an awkward enthusiasm that nails Haddon’s protagonist. In the words of Tropic Thunder, he never goes full retard – although he does promise his teacher to come back after the curtain call and give the audience a maths lesson they’ll never forget.
The supporting actors are equally excellent. Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks) is heart-rending as his guilt-stricken mother, while it’s oddly appropriate, given the origin of Mark Haddon’s title, to see Sherlock’s Mrs Hudson (the always wonderful Una Stubbs) pop up as our hero’s bumbling elderly neighbour.
Together, the cast is subtle enough to make you forget about everything else. The stunning set and dynamic staging are mind-boggling at first, but once Treadaway’s on stage (and there’s barely a scene without him) you don’t give it a second thought.
It all adds up not just to a faithful adaptation of a superb book, but a properly flawless piece of theatre. An algebra formula in which all the numbers add up to AWESOME. And for £15, I’d much rather pay to see that put on screen than a separately filmed adaptation. Especially if they keep the encore at the end.
Find your nearest NT Live showing of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.