Theatre: The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time, National Theatre

Parents’ struggle with an autistic child is heart-rending to watch

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time National Theatre South Bank

4 stars

Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time begins with the narrator, autistic 15-year-old Christopher Boone, investigating the killing with a pitchfork of a neighbour’s pet.

Christopher is a boy ruled by routines. He finds comfort in systems whether solar or numeric. As he starts asking questions about the dog’s death, he unwittingly and confusingly finds himself drawn into the worlds of the people around him. Unhappy truths about his own family start to emerge.

To turn the complexity of the boy’s thinking into a play was a big ask, but Simon Stephens has got around the first person narrative by giving Christopher’s story to a teacher, Siobhan, who is trying to dramatise it.

Director Marianne Elliot’s single mistake is getting Siobhan (Niamh Cusack) to drip sympathy across a story that is deliberately and necessarily unsentimental. Indeed, it is Christopher’s lack of sentiment that underscores the huge emotional pain he and his parents endure.

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As his quest goes on, he learns that the mother he believes is dead is living in London. This discovery coincides with a terrible scene in which he loses trust in his father and decides to run away. His escape is presaged by a breathtaking ending to the first half of the play and an extraordinary beginning to the second.

The draw of the production, however, is the clarity given to the parents when presented in 3D. Flawed at best, and incompetent at worst, theirs is a responsibility and a struggle that is heart-rending to watch. The play evokes as much, if not more, sympathy for their dysfunction than that of the boy.

Luke Treadaway as Christopher grows into the role across two and a half hours and is both moving and unknowable. Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker as his troubled parents, struggling with the unknown, are superb. Even as the pair find resolution, they are acutely aware that any respite will be brief – not just for themselves, but for the son who they love with all their hearts.

Until October 27.