Yesterday Andrea and I went down to London for the day to see a play at the National. It seems like ages since we’ve done this, but I suspect it isn’t really.
I didn’t post about it yesterday for two reasons. Firstly, the day was a bit rushed. We left late, due to the world of baby cows and feeding waiting for no man, and we arrived home really late after a serious crash on the M1 last night saw us getting off the motorway at Luton and navigating the highways and byways of the country to get home. Secondly I wanted to have a really good think about what I wanted to say about the play before I wrote about it.
My first instinct was to, surprisingly for me, keep it short, and write: ‘It was AMAZING! You must go.’
But, you know, not having even told you what we went to see wouldn’t help much.
We saw the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s brilliant book: ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time’.
We were, it has to be said, slightly nervous about it. It is not an easy book to adapt, and we really couldn’t imagine how they would do it justice on stage.
It is the story of Christopher, a fifteen year old boy with Aspergers’ who finds his neighbour’s dog dead in the garden one night. He decides to investigate who killed the dog and write down his investigation to make a book.
It is, as you might expect, a rather unusual investigation, because the world that Christopher inhabits is not the world that the rest of us inhabit. Things which seem unusual to him are perhaps ordinary to us. Things which seem ordinary to him are unusual to us. This gives his investigation a slightly surreal, otherworldly quality.
As well as the results of his investigation, Christopher writes about his relationship with his parents and the other people who inhabit his world. It is fascinating to read. Not having ever been in the position to meet someone with Aspergers’ and talk to them about their experiences I cannot say whether what Haddon writes about is true, but it feels true when you are reading it.
So, how do you stage what is, to all intents and purposes the internal dialogue of someone who sees the world in such a unique way?
It was staged at the smallest of the three theatres that make up the National, The Cottesloe. The Cottesloe only seats a couple of hundred people and all the seats can be taken out so that the staging space is completely flexible.
For this play the stage was rectangular and sunk down into the floor space with the seats arranged around all four sides. The stage floor was blackboard material in a gridded design, with an axis printed on it, showing Christopher’s perception of time and space.
Around the edges of the stage there was a small wall of luminous light boxes where the rest of the characters sat until Christopher was ready for them to inhabit the space that was his mind, i.e. the stage floor.
The colour palette was pretty monochrome and there was lots of use of light and sound to create atmosphere. At one point, Christopher, who hates to be touched, and hates loud noises, goes to London on the train. The concourse at the station was created by beaming the names of the shops and spaces of the station on the floor of the stage, and the noises of the people and the trains was amplified and amplified louder and louder as Christopher became more and more distressed at what he was experiencing.
I am not really doing it justice, but you will have to believe me when I say that it was an inspired piece of staging where the whole look and feel of the play was entirely integral to its success. It was so clever.
The actor who played Christopher, Luke Treadaway, did an amazing job of bringing him to life in a totally sympathetic way. You absolutely believed that he was Christopher. It was a spectacular performance and very physically as well as emotionally demanding.
The supporting cast was as strong as the lead and included Niamh Cusack and even Una Stubbs.
It was an emotionally engaging, totally absorbing piece of theatre, and one of the best things I have seen in a very, very long time.
The run, unfortunately, is sold out, because I wanted to take my mum and Jason to see it, but taking them up to queue for returns is not an option for us. The NT Live screening has already happened, which is unfortunate too. The only ray of light is that the play has been such a success that the National are preparing for a West End transfer in March of next year.
I urge you to go.