Monday, February 8, 2016

London West End Theatre: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

My recent London experience of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was one of those rare instances when I went to a show knowing virtually nothing about the story, the characters or the overall production. All I knew going in was the show is based on the book of the same name; I didn’t even know who the author was – Mark Haddon – or that it won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2015.

I was relying solely on the advice of my theatre friends back home in Canada, who swore fervently their viewing experiences of this show were nothing short of “life-changing”.

That’s an all-or-nothing kind of statement to make but since I trusted my sources, it was all I needed to be convinced.

London's beautiful Gielgud Theatre
As we sat there in our seats at the Gielgud Theatre, waiting for the show to start, my husband asked me what the show was about. All I could do was answer truthfully: “I don’t know, but it’s supposed to change our lives.” And when the lights finally dimmed, I felt my excitement reach a whole new level because I honestly had no idea what to expect.

I certainly wasn’t anticipating the show to start at full-tilt, with a loud, booming electronic musical score that jolted me out of my comfortable, spectator zone. The bright lights snapped up on a nearly bare stage, painted black and white in a precise grid pattern on the floor and walls, with a motionless dog and a boy poised in the center. Such a beginning demanded my full attention before taking off at break-neck speed into the story of Christopher, an eccentric, 15 year-old mathematical genius/detective investigating the titular curious incident of the death of a neighbor’s dog in the nighttime.

Along the way, through the narration of Christopher’s teacher, who reads from his personal notebook, and other scenes and monologues of the supporting cast of characters, more and more is revealed about the life of the unforgettable protagonist. The mysteries surrounding Christopher’s relationships with those around him, his hopes and dreams of becoming a scientist and the secrets and complexities of his family, are unraveled. Through a vivid, innovative light and sound design and brilliant, truthful performances from all the actors, we were invited to experience the world through Christopher’s beautiful, yet complex mind. The extremes of the technical elements highlight his perception of the world: sounds are jarring and a little too loud, the lights on the grid are a little too bright, and Christopher himself is a little too honest in his interactions.

These extremes are tempered somewhat in the second act, as Christopher makes choices and takes chances that give him more insight and understanding of the world. His journey and the creative way in which it’s told reminded me the quest of another eccentric, yet brilliant child protagonist seeking the truth, Oskar Schell, from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Without giving too much away, as I believe this production should be experienced as presently and as in-the-moment as possible, two stand-out scenes deserve mention: Christopher’s monologue about space and being an astronaut, and his adventure in navigating the twists and turns of the London Underground for the first time. Both scenes deftly combine the virtuosity of the young actor playing Christopher (the incredible SiĆ“n Daniel Young), the commitment of the ensemble cast, and the brilliant design elements into beautifully choreographed movement sequences emphasizing Christopher’s wonder, excitement and confusion.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a superbly acted, exquisitely designed and boldly executed production about family, discovery, courage and love. Seeing it with my husband was a special experience as he found himself captivated by the story and the spectacle and deeply affected by the characters. He wasn’t expecting that kind of theatrical experience either and we both couldn’t stop thinking about it and discussing it for the rest of our weekend in London.

I’m so glad I took it on faith and went into this show as blind as I did because it was such a pure viewing experience, free of predispositions and expectations and it also reaffirmed what I love most about theatre: the creative possibilities of storytelling are limitless, as are the ways one can be affected by a compelling story.

Life-changing indeed.

A ticket bought on the faith of friends' recommendations

For more about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in London, including ticket and tour information, check out

For information about the Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, check out

For audiences in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, you will have the opportunity to witness this spectacular production as part of The Citadel Theatre’s 2016-2017 Season. 

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