You won’t have to have read Mark Haddon’s beloved 2003 English novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to really enjoy its stage adaptation, but it sure does make you appreciate it that much more.
Haddon’s multi award-wining novel has been celebrated by critics and the medical community alike for its first-person portrayal of 15-year old Christopher Boone, whose autism spectrum introduces us to a thought process that is the definition of literal. It’s an isolated, intimate world where maths can rationalize anything and where fears and a firm set of rules creates a boundary with the outside world.
The play, as adapted by English playwright Simon Stephens and directed here at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre by Heidi Malazdrewich, differs – to marvellous effect – in how it pulls Christopher out so we can view him within our own world, a figurative, loud, and often absurd place.
The absurd is the opening setting, one featuring Mrs. Shears’ (Christopher’s neighbour) freshly impaled dead dog, which he is kneeling over while she swears bloody murder.
Cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (photo by David Cooper)
From there, using a clever array of characters who twirl, spin, and literally lift Christopher up and around so he can introduce us to his world, we are brought on a journey that is one part whodunit, two parts family drama.
Whereas Haddon’s book has more emphasis on Christopher as the detective – a kid who has devoured every Sherlock Holmes novel and who is doggedly determined to find whoever did this to Wellington – the play leaves out all those Sir Arthur Conan Doyle references and instead focuses more on the relationship between Christopher, his teacher Siobhan (Cherissa Richards) and his father (David W. Keeley).
As the lead actor, Edmund Stapleton is engrossing (and would have been well-deserving of a standing ovation) as Christopher, convincing in every quirk and equation (he even explains a complex maths problem after the curtain comes up – which was great fun), while his back and forth with Siobhan (whom acts a bit like the narrator, constantly reading from a book he is writing about the case of Wellington) makes for some immensely enjoyable moments.
There are also melancholy bits, particularly in the parental dynamic, as Christopher’s melancholic father tries best to relate his detached son, while we are also introduced to his supposedly dead mother (Patricia Zentilli), through letters and a flashback to a beach in Cornwall.
The set provides just enough spectacle to complement the dialogue. There are pictorial panels at the top of the stage that do fun things like catalogue Christopher’s pocket inventory for police, which later are used to portray his sensory overload when exposed to the outside world.
Edmund Stapleton, Rosie (the dog) and David W. Keeley (photo by David Cooper)
The stage floor is a map of the constellations, while the supporting cast of characters bring other elements of the story to life using simple props. There is very little else in the way of physical staging, aside from one scene where a London subway car is composed of drawers and shelving.
The whole cast is terrific – with the bit part characters providing the comedic relief when interacting with Christopher, while throughout the play there is a steady mix of turbulence, comedy and heart, including one particular moment that everyone in the audience fawned over.
It’s a fantastic start to the new season at Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and (despite there being the occasional swear word – particularly right off the top) one that can be enjoyed by audiences of most ages.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s John Hirsch Main Stage from October 20 to November 12.
For tickets and show times click here.