It is now almost five years since the first performance of the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In that time, it has won seven Olivier Awards, five Tonys and embarked on a national tour that culminates this week in the same venue as it began two years ago, The Lowry.
It’s safe to say that with its return to Salford, Simon Stephens’ adaptation of the Mark Haddon novel has established itself as a true classic of 21st century theatre.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a production that is so note-perfect across the board, but the first thing to be noticed by the audience as they enter the theatre, and probably the most groundbreaking aspect of the show, is undoubtedly the staging.
GONG WINNER: The production has picked up Tonys and Olivier Awards
The action is framed inside a huge black and neon box, with bright moving edges, panels that can operate as either screen or drawing board, and hidden cupboards that are able to produce any additional set or prop needed by the actors, from a model reconstruction of central London to a real-life puppy.
The staging is flashy but in the best possible way – everything on-stage is there for a reason, every light cue has a motivation behind it and each movement elevates the plot to a level otherwise unattainable.
It is to the credit of the whole creative team, from writer Simon Stephens to Director Marianne Elliott, that everything about the play is so in-sync, combining to create a deep and poignant portrayal of Christopher Boone’s experience of life with Asperger syndrome.
THE LOWRY: The production is on until February 4
The choreography from Frantic Assembly is also vital in this regard. The supporting cast, as well as taking on a variety of smaller roles in the plot, frequently take part in large ensemble scenes in which their movement as a group conveys Christopher’s visual-spatial perception of the world, most memorably in his journey through the London Underground.
Scott Reid plays the part of Christopher with faultless character, indomitable wit and shedloads of pathos, in what is a hugely demanding role for a young actor to tackle. His physical performance is maintained perfectly throughout, while the heartfelt subtlety of his scenes with his parents and teacher Siobhan leave large swathes of the audience audibly weeping.
The meta-theatrical conceit of the play – that it is a school staging of Christopher’s autobiographical story – creates moments of comic genius, not least an inspired post-curtain-call additional scene you won’t want to miss out on. It also provides some stand-out lines for the ensemble cast, and a special mention must go to Debra Michaels, whose interjections as Christopher’s jobsworth headmaster are nothing less than comic genius.
Marianne Elliot comes from some theatrical pedigree, the daughter of Michael Elliott, who co-founded the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, but with the astonishing success of first War Horse and now Curious Incident, she is firmly establishing her own legacy as one of British theatre’s most innovative and influential figures.
*The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at The Lowry until Saturday 4 February.