Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is regarded as a treasure on the West End with the National Theatre’s remarkable production. Simon Stephen’s adaptation has been a hit on Broadway and on tour, and it will embark on another UK tour this January, opening at the Lowry.
Curious Incident tells the story of 15-year-old Christopher who is on the autism spectrum and struggles with communication. As well as being exceptionally clever, he sees and interprets the world differently. One evening he discovers his next door neighbour’s dog dead in the garden and attempts to find out what happened, whilst unravelling a few secrets about his life along the way. I spoke to David Michaels, who plays the role of Ed Boone, Christopher’s father.
Christopher’s mother isn’t in his life any more, which puts a strain on his relationship with his father. Ed Boone is struggling to juggle everything in life, such as being a single parent, whilst holding together a strong relationship with his son.
“He is a very ordinary bloke,” David told me. “He is struggling to keep his life together and is coping very badly.” When his wife, Christopher’s mother Judy was around, Christopher and Ed had a great relationship. “I think that was partly because he wasn’t around all the time, he was working a lot and it is much easier to have an easy-going relationship with a child when you’re not doing it day in day out, hour in hour out, ” David explained. “When Judy isn’t around, it becomes much more complicated because he is trying to spin so many plates. Judy describes him as being a very patient father, and in the past he used to be like that.” The play starts when Ed is at the end of his tether, so the audience only ever see Ed’s battle with bringing up Christopher alone.
The production itself is innovative and contemporary. With a visually expressive set, the whole play projects what is going on in Christopher’s mind. With movement by Frantic Assembly, it all ties together to create a show that has a strong narrative, David explained: “The stroke of cleverness is using Siobhan as a narrator, so it isn’t always Christopher’s voice. Siobhan becomes inside his head and speaks for him, she is there as his guide and mentor.”
Whilst sticking closely to the book’s themes and story, Mark said: “Visually, the play is very different, as it is a true depiction of what is in Christopher’s head. But because it has been written with Mark Hatton’s dialogue, which preserves the truth of Christopher’s voice.”
“It is an unbelievably theatrical experience, they could have adapted it to performed in a small studio, but that isn’t what they have done. They have exploded it, they have used all the bells and whistles available for the theatre.”
Christopher and his father’s relationship is difficult to approach, as Ed is constantly frustrated with Christopher, although he does understand that he isn’t doing it on purpose. “You have to also factor in that he is 15, Christopher is like any ordinary child, he is going through puberty and he is a young boy who is starting to mature. ” David said. “Ed’s relationship continues to fracture within the play, and he is attempting to rebuild it.”
Ed is a challenging role to play, because the actor has to strike the perfect balance between understanding and anger. He is consistently frustrated by his lack of ability to maintain a good relationship with Christopher, “Hopefully the audience will see that he isn’t unkind,” David said.
“He is just being a parent. Anyone who has been a child knows they have irritated their parents, and everyone that has been a parent would understand that although he does get angry and he does shout, he isn’t an aggressive man.”
David himself is a father, “My son is 18”, he told me. “I have used that as much as anything. My son moved away to university recently, so that has it’s own heartbreaking elements about it, but the rest of it is imagination.” It is the shift in relationship that makes the character of Ed so interesting, he is finding it difficult to come to terms with a relationship that was solid, to experiencing their bond diminish.
Director Marianne Elliot wanted the actors to immerse themselves in the text to really find out where the characters are coming from. “The scenes are just the tip of the iceberg,” David explained. “I needed time to find out where his frustration came from, so I went back and used my imagination to think about their relationship when Christopher was 18 months, a year old, 2 years old etc. It is all about finding the back story of your character.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is completely engaging and thought-provoking. “I think it is a show that projects the message of hope,” David told me. “I think what is interesting about the show is the fact that Christopher, despite all his difficulties, is the truest character in the show. Christopher has the dream to do maths and become a scientist, and I think he will. He has his hopes and dreams, and I think at the end he realises that it can actually happen.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time UK tour opens at the Lowry on the 21st of January.